US troops at Fort Riley, in the Midwestern state of Kansas, are training for deployment in Afghanistan along with 31 soldiers from Afghanistan's National Army. Some 300 US soldiers are in the current exercise and, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Fort Riley, they are getting a good preview of the kind of conditions and problems they will face after they deploy to Afghanistan.
In this exercise, the soldiers are raiding the suspected base of an insurgent group in order to apprehend what they call "a bad guy." The training takes place in a mock Afghan village complete with so-called enactors, usually Afghan Americans, who play the role of villagers and combatants. Soldiers must safely enter the village, locate the house of the insurgents and enter without harming any of the civilians who wander the streets nearby.
Carrying out such an operation requires cultural sensitivity and knowledge of local traditions. US soldiers are taught to respect local village leaders and to work closely with Afghan security forces and that is one reason the Afghan soldiers are here taking part in these exercises. US Army advisors do most training of Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan, but these 31 men are here so that they can help US soldiers learn how to work with Afghan counterparts before they leave Fort Riley.
Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl , one of the authors of the US military handbook on counterinsurgency, says gaining a better understanding of the Afghan people is a key factor in defeating al-Qaida and the Taliban.
"It is extraordinarily important to understand the culture and not just have cultural awareness, but actually have cultural competence: to be able to work inside the culture, to understand how different people think and what they value," he said.
The Afghans train here with the vehicles, weapons and gear they will use back home. They interact with their US counterparts through interpreters, although most of them have learned a little English and some of the US soldiers have also picked up some Pashto and Dari, the languages spoken in Afghanistan.
Afghan Army Sergeant Rahmat-ullah Ahmed Zai says troops from both countries can learn something from each other.
"The American soldiers learn from us about the terrain in Afghanistan and we learn from them about advanced military technology," he noted. "They have more theoretical knowledge, while ours is more practical."
He says the soldiers from both armies are focused on the same mission.
"Their goal and our goal is the same: the elimination of the enemy, al-Qaida, the terrorists and the drug traffickers," he added.
The commander of the Afghan detachment here is Captain Najibula Askardzada. He says this training is part of an effort to strengthen his nation's security forces so that the country can recover from 30 years of war.
"In order to rebuild the foundations of the country-schools, clinics, mosques-the Afghan people need security and that can only be provided by soldiers with better training, weapons and equipment," he explained.
Major General Robert Durbin, who was in Afghanistan before assuming command of Fort Riley last year, says US troops are still needed there, but he says Afghan troops will one day be able to operate effectively alone.
"I still think we are a year or two, maybe three, from achieving that, but we already have independent operations from some of their highest quality forces, their commando forces, that have demonstrated their capabilities," he said.
In the meantime, Colonel Nagl says the training exercises with Afghan troops here contribute to making US efforts in Afghanistan much more effective.
"It is really the difference between theory and practice and every step we can take our trainers along the road to being a great adviser here at Fort Riley is a step they do not have to learn on the ground in Afghanistan," he noted.
Nagl and other US officers praise the Afghans for their resilience and hard work and they say friendships forged through these exercises help strengthen the bond between the two nations.