Officers say they see progress in mission in Afghanistan

LAWRENCE — An Army officer who spent a year training Afghanistan military and police forces described the mission Thursday as a success and moving in the right direction.

"We made a huge difference tactically — person to person, and strategically," said Lt. Col. Michael Loos. "The training of the Afghan army exceeded expectations in 2010."

Loos and Command Sgt. Maj. Mio Franceschi shared their experiences and insights with a small gathering at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The soldiers are with the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.

Dole, the former Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, leading an infantry unit when he was severely wounded in Italy.

Loos said the schedule was hectic, working with Afghan counterparts and his own unit during days that started early and ended late. It was his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, and he said he could see that conditions were improving.

"I think things are moving in the right direction. I do realize that there is a big focus on the number of casualties. It is not for nothing. There is progress being made," Loos said. "I feel like I didn't let my boss down. Like I did something meaningful for all of you."

Loos and his 850-soldier battalion were among the first 30,000 U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan under a planned surge put in place by President Obama. The president has promised the additional troops would start coming home in July.

Defense officials have been careful not to say how many forces can be pulled out, or provide any timeline, saying it will be based on the conditions in Afghanistan.

The unit's mission was to train Afghan forces to take the lead in fighting the Taliban and other insurgents.

Soldiers were given a short notice of the deployment, getting word the week before Christmas 2009 that they would be gone from January to December 2010. The unit originally was scheduled to go to Iraq.