KABUL -- A brigade of seasoned US soldiers arrived in Afghanistan in recent days on a mission to offer a new type of training -- as well as motivation -- to their Afghan partners.
Most of the troops in the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) have done multiple Afghanistan combat deployments, speak some level of Pashtu or Dari and -- after having themselves undergone special training -- have now volunteered to return.
The unit was stood up last October and activated February 8.
"They are coming here because they are passionate about the mission," Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Kabul, told AFP.
The US Department of Defence has been training partner forces in various conflicts for decades, and the approach has been buoyed in recent years by local forces' successes against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Partners on the front lines
What differentiates the SFAB from other Afghan missions is not just the US soldiers' experience but also their intention of patrolling closer to the conflict's front lines than trainers have done in recent years -- putting them at greater risk.
They will help Afghans hone a variety of skills including marksmanship and weapons training, and combat medics will teach Afghan partners how to better handle battlefield trauma.
And, vitally, the Afghans will learn how to call in air strikes and how to conduct ground-clearing operations.
"The goal is to not fight for the Afghans but to train these proud soldiers to see that they can fight for themselves," Gresback said.
Squads of about 10 US soldiers will embed at the "kandak" level -- battalions typically made up of 300-400 men -- and they will deploy across Afghanistan, including in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, where the Taliban and ISIS are fighting.
The NATO and US training of Afghan troops has been largely conducted by commandos and focused on Afghanistan's special forces, rather than on its conventional units.
Up until the end of 2014, NATO troops provided most of the security in Afghanistan, but in 2015, after the drawdown of Western forces, Afghan troops were tasked with the job themselves.
Pushing back the Taliban
US commanders say the SFAB, along with an increased tempo of air strikes and a broader strategy for the region including Pakistan, will help the Afghans push back the Taliban.
Officials say 64% of the Afghan population lives in areas currently controlled by the Afghan government, with 12% in Taliban-controlled areas and the rest living in "contested areas".
They have set the goal of increasing the part of the population under government control to 80% within two years.
"I've looked at the training regime," US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said recently.
"First of all, the quality of these troops, in terms of their experience and their selection, and second, the training, gives me a lot of confidence."