Afghan fighting continues for Nebraska National Guard

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June 22nd, 2011

Lincoln, NE – A unit of Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers is battling insurgents for control of a strategic valley in Afghanistan.

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The Musahi Valley sits just south of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. With sharp rocky mountains on either side, a river runs through the fairly narrow valley floor, a place that’s lush with green orchids and farm fields this time of year: a serene facade for a dangerous place.

Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers and Afghan police on patrol in the Musahi valley. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Army National Guard)

“It’s almost like the highway that takes the insurgent activity from Pakistan up into Kabul City,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Belleci.

Bellici is a Nebraska Army National Guard soldier from Grand Island, serving in Afghanistan with Troop A of the 1-134th Cavalry. Belleci and Troop A are battling insurgents for control of this strategically important area by trying to win over the locals who live in extreme poverty in small Musahi Valley villages: places often without electricity, heat, or enough food.

Belleci said, “The fact that they don’t have a whole lot, which means that…they’re up for the highest bidder.”

So the weapon of choice becomes deliveries of medical supplies and just the basics that villagers need to survive.

“So a lot of things that we brought down to them were… blankets, clothing, oil to cook their food, rice, flour, the necessities to get them through the winter,” Belleci said.

Troop A soldiers are doing this side-by-side with Afghan security forces. Teaching them how to be a presence in the valley, according to Captain Zach Labrayere of Lincoln, Troop A’s commander.

LaBrayere said, “So those communities recognize the face of the local police and have that security showing that not only is the insurgency, but the police are there too.”

Troop A recently teamed with Afghan security forces for a Musahi Valley mission called Operation United Front 2. For several weeks, soldiers went door-to-door through the valley on what was termed a “village clearing” mission.

LaBrayere said, “It was almost treated like a census in a lot of ways. [We] met homeowners, met elders, as we work through the village, there’s a series of questions that we ask them. [We] interacted with many of the kids and it was really a great chance for us to gauge the atmosphere of the local populace.”

LaBrayere and Belleci both believe Nebraska soldiers have made progress in the Musahi Valley. They said locals have warmed-up to the combined U.S. and Afghan presence, and Afghan security forces are learning the concept of community policing of being out, active and visible in local villages.

An April truck bomb attack on the local government compound was a reminder that it’s still a dangerous area. At some point U.S. forces will no longer be at the side of local police. Without that support, can change be sustained in Musahi Valley?

Staff Sgt. Mike Belleci said, “I think they’re still a long off from where they need to be, I really do. Because it’s easy to go into that dangerous neighborhood when you got your big brother with you. But when, you know, if they—if they go unmentored, which I hope they don’t, and I don’t see that happening, but they’re still—they’re still a little ways off from where they need to be.”

Belleci added, “They’re definitely leaps and bounds from where they were.”

The several hundred Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers from the 1-134th Cavalry are scheduled to come home in about a month.

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