Notebook from Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — A convoy of armored SUVs swirled into the parking lot Monday outside the Camp Phoenix headquarters.

The usual procession of generals stepped out of the vehicles. Then, a tall, distinguished looking man in a business suit and body armor, emerged from a vehicle.

U.S. ambassador William Wood, who’s been on the job just five weeks, came to the base to get the lowdown on Task Force Phoenix, charged with training the Afghan army and national police.

Joining Wood was Brig. Gen. Bob Livingston of Columbia, commander of the S.C. National Guard’s 218th Brigade Combat Team, which heads up Task Force Phoenix.

“This task force ... is doing great new things for Afghanistan,” Wood said.

The ultimate goal, Wood added, is to help Afghans solve their problems and become a “good friend.”

What NATO members and the United States are doing to rebuild and bring stability to Afghanistan will be a “model for decades to come,” Wood added.


Thousands of soldiers pass through Camp Phoenix on their way to other outposts in Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, one of the soldiers in transit was Capt. James Smith of Columbia, better known as a Democratic state representative.

Having spent a week just getting to Camp Phoenix from Fort Riley, Kan., Smith was tired, saying he had gone a couple of days without sleep.

Smith, a trainer who will embed with Afghan forces, said he still keeps in touch with what’s happening in the Legislature through e-mails and phone calls.

State Rep. Doug Jennings, D-Marlboro, is casting Smith’s proxy vote on bills.

Smith also takes some ribbing from comrades about any hope he might have of winning the governor’s mansion as a Democrat in heavily Republican South Carolina.

“I intend to be the Ronald Reagan and Carroll Campbell of the Democratic Party,” Smith cracked.


Smith’s boss in Afghanistan, Col. Cory Cannon, said soldiers on the embedded training teams will spend much of the year ahead working with the Afghan national police.

Commanders hope to replicate the success an embedded training effort has had with the Afghan army. The Afghan army has become the No. 1 symbol of national unity in Afghanistan, they add.

The Afghan police function more like a security force than a crime-fighting organization. While Afghan army fights the Taliban and other anti-government forces, it is the job of Afghan police to keep insurgents from returning and taking over towns.

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