CAMP SPANN, Afhganistan, - Live mortar rounds are commonly used in manufacturing improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, and in the hands of insurgents or Taliban fighters these weapons could be used to attack local civilians as well as Afghan National Security Forces who patrol the area in unarmored vehicles.
"What's news here is not that the cache was found, but rather by who it was found and how it was disposed of," said Maj. David Baer, commander of the Minnesota National Guard's Operational Mentor and Liaison Team 47 stationed here.
After further discussions with the residents of Petaw, ANSF learned that they had known of the weapons cache for some time and finally felt enough confidence in the locally-based 3rd Battalion 1st Brigade of the Afghan National Army's 209th Corps to report the location of the buried munitions, which some believe may have been there for over a decade.
"ANA soldiers took the lead and exploited the cache without significant assistance from their Western army partners," said Baer. "Local residents would never have reported the weapons cache to the ANA if they didn't feel they could not only safely dispose of the munitions but protect them against potential retaliation against the local population. This is the kind of progress that doesn't always make the evening news, but displays a crucial vote of confidence in the ANA."
Maj. Merza Murad, executive officer of the 3rd Battalion 1st Brigade of the ANA 209th Corps, shared how the munitions were found and taken from an area near the house of a former Mujahideen fighter. Murad stated that the Mujahideen commander buried the munitions several years ago, keeping them hidden from the Taliban.
"While they were digging out the cache, civilians were watching and many of the children wanted to help," said Murad. "Children like the ANA and say that they want to be like soldiers when they grow up. When they (the ANA) first arrived in the area people would turn their backs and not wave back to the soldiers. Now after working on roads, giving medicine and helping civilians, they trust the soldiers."
Murad explained how important it is for civilians to see the ANA's actions for themselves as literacy rates in the Ghormach area remain low and locals are not able to read about the ANSF progress.
"The Taliban know that if the people become educated they will lose what little power that they have," said Murad.
Helping to educate the population is one of the most effective ways to gain civilians' trust and support of the ANSF according to Murad, and the partnership among the people and government agencies is crucial for the ANSF's continued success.