Alaska-based troops making progress in Afghanistan war

Fort Rich brigade has built 240 miles of roads, restored 29 schools

Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Richardson is seven months into a one-year deployment in Afghanistan.

In a teleconference Friday with reporters, the commander, Col. Michael Howard, says the brigade has made progress in protecting civilians from insurgents.

Howard says the brigade and its economic teams have built 240 miles of roads and restored 29 schools, five medical facilities and three courthouses.

Eleven soldiers from the 3,500-member brigade have died in Afghanistan, 10 in combat, and 31 were wounded so seriously they will not return to battle.

The brigade, and three additional battalions attached to it, patrol Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces in eastern Afghanistan, an area about the size of Maryland. Their battle space includes about 340 miles of frontier with Pakistan.

With reconstruction teams and agricultural advisers working with the brigade, the number of people under Howard's command is at 5,500. This is Howard's fourth tour in Afghanistan and the first for the 4-25th, which earlier went to Iraq for 14 months.

In his first call with Alaska reporters, in May, Howard said 200 Afghan civilians had died over the first three months of deployments.

"The numbers have dropped each month since May now, for an overall decrease of 49 percent," Howard said. "The numbers have dropped because your soldiers made them drop."

Howard attributed the improvements in safety for U.S. soldiers to growing sophistication by commanders and troops and to a decision by the Army to eliminate the use of armored Humvees in patrols "outside the wire."

In their place, the brigade has obtained 160 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, he said. MRAPs, first developed in South Africa, are built to withstand roadside bombs and they've had a major effect in reducing casualties, Howard said.

With winter approaching, combat operations are expected to slow substantially as the mountain redoubts of the Taliban and other insurgents become inhospitable, Howard said. That will provide more opportunities to work on additional civilian projects, he said.

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