KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — With his armored trucks creeping through the thronging bazaars that line Highway 1, Col. Tom Washington recently made his weekly trip from Kandahar Airfield to the governor’s palace.
Gov. Toryalai Wesa had just left for meetings in Kabul, so the colonel met with Kandahar Province’s deputy governor Abdul Qadim Patyal, as he often does.
Ask Washington where he’s from and he’ll tell you in a lilting Tidewater accent that he’s a Virginia native. Press further and you’ll find that doesn’t just mean he was born there. His family has lived in Virginia for eight generations and is related to the Washington, the first president of the United States. Washington’s role as military liaison to the governor’s office is one of the few US military jobs that will remain in Kandahar after the planned drawdown of troops is complete. While Washington will likely finish his tour at the end of the year, he'll be replaced by another handpicked colonel, continuing the mentorship and information sharing process that is central to the post-2014 US mission in Afghanistan.
President Obama has identified counterterrorism and training as the two emphases for the road ahead, and the soldiers tasked with carrying them out will have their work cut out for them. At the moment, US soldiers are leaving Afghanistan in droves, most military bases here are now in Afghan hands and US activities in 2015 and beyond are expected to be much smaller than they’ve been in more than a decade.
A few years ago, the main effort of US mentorship and training took place primarily at the lowest levels of Afghan military and politics: US soldier to Afghan soldier, squad to squad, platoon to platoon. Four months from the combat mission’s official end, mentorship occurs only at the highest provincial levels: US general to Afghan general, corps to corps, and in Kandahar City, colonel to governor.