Operation Freedom’s Sentinel Begins

The US and its coalition allies on Jan. 1 handed off combat operations in Afghanistan to the 350,000-strong Afghan military and security forces, kicking off Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the US training and advising mission to support the Afghan government. As part of OFS, the US will pursue two missions, said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The first supports NATO’s Operation Resolute Support mission to advise, train, and assist Afghan forces, while the second continues counter terrorism activities against “remnants” of al Qaeda. US combat activities as part of the new mission already have received some attention, as DOD appears to be scaling back the scope of its activities in the country. The Pentagon has made clear it will not be targeting al Qaeda members or leaders, unless they are linked to specific threats against US forces or Afghan allies. The 13,000 troops left in country working with NATO’s ORS will focus on specific areas at the “ministerial, operational, and institutional level”, according to NATO’s release on the occasion. That will include budgeting, transparency and oversight, civilian control of the military, force generation, sustainment, strategy and planning, intelligence, and strategic communications. (Read President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s statements on the occasion.)