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Oklahoma guard troops to train Afghans

Oklahoma National Guard troops will lead a five-state Army Guard task force that will train the Afghanistan national army.

Brig. Gen. Tom Mancino, the 45th Brigade commander, will head a National Guard force of up to 1,000 troops in training Afghan army troops in the months leading up to the critical Afghan national elections in June.

An estimated 400 soldiers will be deployed in December from Oklahoma Army Guard units in Sand Springs, Stillwater and Oklahoma City.

Mancino said Afghan warlords run mini-governments, and the war-scarred country is subject to guerrilla attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban renegades.

"They need to have a trained army to keep the peace in Afghanistan and ensure the stability of their government," the task force commander said.

Mancino's son, Capt. Tom Mancino, is among the troops being deployed to the Middle East hot spot.

"If we fail in this mission," the captain said, "the entire country of Afghanistan could fall back into civil war."

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has ordered private armies to disband, but his political influence is limited outside the capital of Kabul.

Some Afghan warlords ignore the state, collect taxes and maintain small armies. Peace will be difficult to achieve without a stabilized national Afghan army, said Brig. Gen. Mancino, who recently returned from an advance reconnaissance to Afghanistan.

The area around Kabul, Mancino said, is mountainous, desert-like, with rocks and little grass. In many ways, he said "it is like you have gone back a couple or 300 years in time."

The American Army Guard forces will be part of a multination presence in Afghanistan, Mancino said.

Although it is a training mission, the danger is that Afghanistan "is still a combat zone. Religious extremists still operate in the area," Mancino said.

The embedded trainers will be joined on the exercise by a security force and a support unit which will supply rations and transportation.

Capt. Mancino's intelligence unit will provide logistical support for the soldiers, such as measuring the terrorist threat.

"This is a very unique mission in that, one, it is in a combat zone; and, two, its primary focus is to train an army, something that we haven't done," the brigadier general said.

Brigade soldiers will be sent to Fort Carson, Colo., for training before being deployed to Afghanistan in early December.

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