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Kittanning grad offers insider's view on Afghanistan

John Brochetti was happy to hear his son's voice for the first time in two months Friday.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/leadertimes/news/s_626745.html

By Renatta Signorini, LEADER TIMES
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

He was lucky -- he had taken that day off from work.

It's been a long deployment for the Brochetti family while Adam has been unreachable in the heart of Taliban country in southern Afghanistan. It is the most violent part of the country and 1st Lt. Adam Brochetti has lost fellow Marines in battling with the enemy.

But Brochetti, 26, a Kittanning graduate, was committed to his platoon's purpose in Afghanistan and has witnessed great improvements in the country, he said in an e-mail conversation.

"We see small victories every day, which is all you can hope for," he said. "I believe that with the increase in troops in Afghanistan ... will allow us to maintain better security, which will result in more protection for the people and more economic and social developments."

Afghan National Police

Brochetti's battalion's mission, in addition to fighting the Taliban insurgency, was to train and mentor the Afghan National Police. The Marines provided classroom instruction and on-the-job training to help about 180 members learn proper ways of security and safety in their communities.

"I was in charge of planning our day-to-day operations with our Afghan and British counterparts, as well as overseeing the training of the Afghan National Police," Brochetti said.

Members of the Afghan police would assist during day and night patrols with the Marines "because we always wanted to put 'the Afghan face' on everything that we did," Brochetti explained.

"We wanted people to see their own security forces taking the lead, so that they could gain trust and confidence in them," he said.

American forces work jointly with British military who are responsible for the area that is coveted by the Taliban because of the fertile ground, Brochetti said. The majority of the world's opium and heroin comes from poppies that are grown and harvested in the area, he said.

"This is a very lucrative business for the Taliban, and it continues to fund their insurgency throughout the year," he said.

Winning over the people

The Afghan people are hard-working and honorable, Brochetti said, and have been plagued by "countless hardships that include famine, wars, foreign invaders and warlordism that have torn their country apart."

There are no roads in the land-locked country and families use wells for drinking water. An ancient irrigation system is used to provide water to crops, Brochetti said.

Census data was taken of each villager, he said, which enabled Marines to build a rapport with the locals.

"If they were nervous and reluctant to talk to us, we knew that there was probably Taliban spies in the village watching them," he said.

It was sometimes difficult to convince the locals that the Marines are there to help. The Afghans face a difficult way of life -- they will be threatened by Taliban forces if they cooperate with the Marines, and if they help the Taliban they could be arrested, Brochetti said.

With the support of the population, the Taliban has the freedom of movement to lay explosive devices that could potentially harm Marines.

"Once we gain the trust and confidence of the people, only then will they begin to give us valuable intelligence that allows us to defeat the Taliban," he said. "The people, however, will not give us this information unless they feel safe and protected."

Trust was gained from one local who warned Marines of an explosive device placed on a narrow path by the Taliban that could have inflicted serious injuries to those patrolling.

"The fact that the local was brave enough to warn us about the (explosive device) showed us that we were slowly winning over the people," Brochetti said.

Voter registration

The thousands of people who registered to vote was a success for the Marines, who helped provide security.

"That showed us that they wanted to have a part in the selection of their government officials, and it also showed that they felt safe enough to ignore the Taliban's threats," Brochetti said. "Earlier that year, the Taliban said that anyone who was caught with a voter registration card would be beaten."

The Taliban does not want progress in the country, Brochetti said.

"Keeping the locals in a state of ignorance is how they are able to manipulate and control them," he said.

Brochetti hoped that if the Marines can continue to focus on bettering the quality of life, Afghans will reject the Taliban.

Fighting

Passing clearly-defined enemy lines to the north and south of the Marines' position would result in attacks by the Taliban, Brochetti said. Members of the Taliban blend into the population -- they have no uniforms or distinguishing dress or characteristics, he said.

"We would be patrolling through the bazaar daily and would receive glares from several military-age males, which were surely Taliban, but there was nothing that we could do," he said. "Those same individuals were probably the same ones who would be attacking the coalition forces that very night."

The difference between fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear -- the Taliban is comprised of people who have inhabited the land for thousands of years, while Al-Qaida in Iraq is made up of mostly foreign fighters, he said.

"We are fighting the home team" in Afghanistan, Brochetti said.

Forgetting about the war

Soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan, but Iraq has seemed to dominate much of war reporting.

"I wish everyone back in the U.S. could catch just a glimpse of the heroism that is being performed daily by Americans over here," Brochetti said.

Local residents have not forgotten about the mission -- a call for clothes, toys and school supplies for the Afghan children was met with a great response, Brochetti said. The Marines and Afghan police made weekly trips to the local school and passed out the items to the children.

"This greatly increased our standing amongst the people," he said. "I am very grateful for the support that everyone back home showed us out here."

Brochetti is expected to return home in a couple of weeks to his wife, dog and cat in North Carolina.

Nikki Brochetti said her husband doesn't make fighting in a war "out to be a big deal."

"I know it's very admirable and very heroic," she said.

Adam should be home for about a year, she said, and then re-deploy next spring. She graduated from a high school in Indiana County.

John Brochetti, Adam's father, said that while his son is fighting enemy forces, there are other motives.

"I think Adam has a genuine concern about other human beings," John said. "I think, in a way, he developed a close attachment to the people of Afghanistan, especially the children."

Adam comes from a military family -- his grandfather served in World War II and an uncle died in battle. A younger brother Alex is in the Air Force and his sister Alissa is married to a Marine lieutenant.

The youngest Brochetti -- Andrew -- is in high school and has dreams of being in the military, father John Brochetti said, and son Aaron works in New York at a job unrelated to the military.

While John and his son spoke on the phone last week, most of their communication is done through e-mail and letters. In recent correspondence, John remembered the accomplishments his son made in wrestling (he was a three-year letterman at the U.S. Naval Academy), but Adam's service has made the biggest impression, he said.

John told his son, "What you're doing there makes me the most proud."