Afghanistan — British forces bridge language divide in Afghanistan

Dozens of British Ser­vice per­son­nel trained to speak Dari or Pash­tu in the run up to their Afghanistan deploy­ment have been using their lan­guage skills to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with the local Afghan pop­u­la­tion.

Lieutenant David Duffus puts his Dari language skills to good use as an adviser to the Afghan National Army
Lieu­tenant David Duf­fus puts his Dari lan­guage skills to good use as an advis­er to the Afghan Nation­al Army
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Some of them have now also decid­ed to write bilin­gual blogs on the British Army and Roy­al Navy blog sites to reach out to the wider Afghan com­mu­ni­ty as well as peo­ple back home.

Lieu­tenant David Duf­fus, of The Roy­al Scots Bor­der­ers, 1st Bat­tal­ion The Roy­al Reg­i­ment of Scot­land, who spent nine months learn­ing Dari before arriv­ing in Afghanistan, said:

“It just shows a bit of respect, that British sol­diers are putting the effort in to try to learn one, the local cul­ture, and two, the lan­guage.”

Dari is spo­ken main­ly in the north of the coun­try rather than in Hel­mand province.

But nine out of ten sol­diers in the Afghan Nation­al Army (ANA) speak Dari rather than Pash­tu, and as an advis­er to the ANA, based in San­gin, Lieu­tenant Duf­fus, from Edin­burgh, has found his lan­guage skills invalu­able:

“It just helps you break the ice with the locals and with the ANA,” he said. “I can talk direct­ly to the sol­diers with­out need­ing an inter­preter and when we are under fire that can save lives, ours and theirs.

“You can get a lot more infor­ma­tion as well out of the local nation­als. They feel a bit eas­i­er if they speak to you in Pash­tu or Dari direct­ly.”

Lieutenant David Duffus out on patrol
Lieu­tenant David Duf­fus out on patrol
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Roy­al Marine Rob Mil­ner, of 40 Com­man­do, is also based in San­gin and he speaks flu­ent Pash­tu.

His unit sent him on a year-long course so he would be able to talk to local peo­ple and Afghan civil­ians work­ing direct­ly for the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force.

While the Roy­al Marines run For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Jack­son in the heart of San­gin, ANA ‘War­riors’ and the Afghan Nation­al Police share it.

This gives Marine Mil­ner plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty to prac­tice his Pash­tu, although he says it was a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to under­stand every­body at first.

His Com­mand­ing Offi­cer, Lieu­tenant Colonel Paul James of the 40 Com­man­do Group, stress­es the impor­tance of being able to speak the local lan­guage:

“We work amongst Afghans who are an incred­i­bly proud peo­ple. Every­one in the bat­tle group has had to learn a lit­tle bit of Pash­tu, includ­ing myself.

“We have ten stock phras­es, and when we come out with them the Afghans are delight­ed. They real­ly appre­ci­ate it.

“Then while we are wow­ing them with our lim­it­ed knowl­edge we can move the inter­preter into place to help us get down to busi­ness.”

Lieutenant David Duffus at work in Sangin
Lieu­tenant David Duf­fus at work in San­gin
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Lieu­tenant Duf­fus said his attempts to chat with the locals have some­times been met with aston­ish­ment:

“There is one local who lives in the Green Zone who we know quite well, who speaks quite a bit of Dari.

“The first time I met him he wouldn’t believe it at first. He thought they had dressed me up in British com­bats and I was real­ly an Afghan sol­dier.”

He says he is cer­tain­ly pick­ing up lots of mil­i­tary words, both in Dari and Pash­tu:

“They use some Pash­tu mil­i­tary words even though they speak Dari and I am learn­ing them too.

“Hope­ful­ly I will have quite an exten­sive grasp of both lan­guages by the time I go home in the autumn.”

Lieu­tenant Duf­fus is blog­ging in Dari and Eng­lish on the British Army’s brand new blog­ging site, which is part of the offi­cial British Army web­site, whilst Marine Milner’s blog is on the Roy­al Navy’s blog­ging site, Jack Speak — see Relat­ed Links.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK