The part of southern Afghanistan where three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers were killed Sunday is the same area that two News Tribune journalists visited last March during the week soldiers from a local Stryker brigade were taking control.
At the time, about 40 Lewis-McChord soldiers in Mizan district of Zabul province were preparing for a summer assignment: to provide security for high-ranking U.S. security advisers who would work in close quarters with Afghan service members.
In the spring, soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division generally spoke warmly about the Afghan army unit in Mizan. But they had concerns about the Afghan local police, which the Americans regarded as less professional than the Afghan army.
All of the Americans’ missions were joint patrols with Afghan soldiers or police. By then, U.S. soldiers were already taking steps to protect themselves from insider attacks by making sure they had loaded weapons in all interactions with Afghans.
If courtesy prevented an American officer or senior noncommissioned officer from carrying a loaded weapon in conversation with Afghan counterparts, an American “guardian angel” with a rifle would keep an eye on the meeting.
American officers last spring considered Mizan a ripe district to hand over to full Afghan control. Its local Afghan army unit had been successful in carrying out independent missions.
“The (Afghan army) will stay and fight, “ Maj. Dave Polizzotti, the executive officer of a Lewis-McChord cavalry squadron, told a News Tribune reporter in March. “These guys have a sense of duty, a sense of purpose.”
U.S. soldiers mostly lived in Combat Outpost Mizan, which housed about 60 soldiers. The outpost was connected to an Afghan army compound on one side and an Afghan police headquarters on the other.
Lewis-McChord has a heavy footprint in Afghanistan this year. It had about 10,000 soldiers there at the peak this summer. Twenty-seven Lewis-McChord soldiers have died there in 2012, with the 3rd Brigade accounting for 14 of those.
The Stryker brigade deployed in two waves, with one group hitting the ground in December and a second in March.