We’re finally letting the Middle East fight its own battles

Fort Polk is a final warmup for the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, one of the Trump administration’s most innovative military experiments. About 1,000 soldiers are being trained here this month before deploying this spring to Afghanistan. The preparatory exercises all focus on the same basic theme: Step back and insist that partners do the front-line combat.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the U.S. Central Command chief who oversees military operations from Libya to Afghanistan, brought me along on a visit Thursday to the SFAB final training site. He summed up the concept behind the new brigade this way: “We have to let our partners own it. That’s hard for us to do. It’s in our DNA to dive in. But our job is to help our partners fight, not fight for them.”

The Afghanistan simulations are carefully staged in the military version of a movie set — with a mosque tower, goats meandering in the street, peddlers hawking flowers and posters of President Ashraf Ghani on the walls of make-believe Afghan National Army headquarters. The idea is to make soldiers “comfortable with the uncomfortable,” says Maj. Gen. Gary Brito, the commander at Fort Polk.