Afghanistan/Pakistan — ‘AfPak Hands’ Begin Immersion Training

CAMP JULIEN, Afghanistan, May 5, 2010 — The first class of U.S. mil­i­tary ser­vice­mem­bers and civil­ians in the new “AfPak Hands” pro­gram arrived here last week to con­tin­ue its train­ing at the Coun­terin­sur­gency Train­ing Acad­e­my Afghanistan.

AfPak Hands servicemembers and civilians
Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan, right, speaks with the first class of “AfPak Hands” ser­vice­mem­bers and civil­ians April 27, 2010, at the Coun­terin­sur­gency Train­ing Acad­e­my on Camp Julien, Afghanistan.
Bildquelle: U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta
Click to enlarge

Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force offi­cials are using the pro­gram in an effort to build bet­ter long-term rela­tion­ships with the Afghan and Pak­istan peo­ple, gov­ern­ments and mil­i­taries.

AfPak Hands is a new, “all-in” lan­guage and cul­tur­al immer­sion ini­tia­tive devel­oped last sum­mer and stood up in the fall by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The pro­gram is billed as a new way to build trust with the mil­i­tary and local pop­u­la­tions in both Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

In Afghanistan, AfPak Hands will help ISAF accel­er­ate the con­tin­u­al tran­si­tion of more respon­si­bil­i­ty to the country’s gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty forces. “It is a pos­i­tive change to the way we do busi­ness here,” said Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Irene Mason, an engi­neer and a mem­ber of the 1st AfPak Hands Cohort, “because the Afghans val­ue per­son­al rela­tion­ships.”

The Afghan army offi­cers who attend­ed coun­terin­sur­gency train­ing with the first class of AfPak Hands were excit­ed and sur­prised to hear Amer­i­cans speak­ing to them in their native lan­guage.

“They know Dari and the Pash­to, and we like that,” 1st Lt. Aya­mu­den Sherzai of the Afghan army said. “I saw the coali­tion part­ners speak­ing Pash­to [and] Dari. I was excit­ed they were speak­ing our lan­guage.

“With­out an inter­preter or trans­la­tor, they can solve the prob­lem by them­selves,” Sherzai con­tin­ued. “They can con­tact the [Afghan secu­ri­ty forces] them­selves.”

The Afghan peo­ple don’t expect coali­tion forces to want to speak their lan­guage, not­ed Army Maj. Geoff Kent, a project coor­di­na­tor for AfPak Hands at the Pen­ta­gon.

“The moment that they have that first inter­ac­tion with an AfPak Hand,” he said, “the moment that some­one speaks to them in their lan­guage and asks them about their fam­i­ly, the light bulbs are all going to come on, and it’s not just going to come on for the Afghan; it’s going to come on for that AfPak Hand, and [they] are going to real­ize, right then and there, the impor­tance of what they are doing.”

AfPak Hands is a group of experts specif­i­cal­ly trained to become experts in the Afghan and Pak­istani cul­tures, Kent explained. “These are the folks that are going to build rela­tion­ships,” he said. “These are the peo­ple that the Afghans are going to want to go to when they’ve got a prob­lem, where they want to dis­cuss an issue.”

The first wave of 33 AfPak mem­bers com­plet­ed an inten­sive 17-week Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute course in Dari or Pash­to in Arling­ton, Va., from Octo­ber to March, and then ser­vice-spe­cif­ic pre-deploy­ment train­ing before their arrival in Kab­ul on April 24. Besides their lan­guage and coun­terin­sur­gency train­ing, each AfPak Hands ser­vice­mem­ber brings spe­cif­ic skill sets, includ­ing exper­tise in gov­er­nance, engi­neer­ing, intel­li­gence, finance and force pro­tec­tion. They’re also going to be assigned as men­tors to gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary offi­cials.

“They’re going to be placed in strate­gic posi­tions where they can make an imme­di­ate impact,” Kent said.

The AfPak Hands cohorts com­plet­ed the week-long Coun­terin­sur­gency Lead­er­ship Course at the Coun­terin­sur­gency Train­ing Acad­e­my on April 29 and are now in four more weeks of immer­sion train­ing with their Afghan gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty forces coun­ter­parts, includ­ing mem­bers of the min­istries of Defense and Rur­al Reha­bil­i­ta­tion and Devel­op­ment, as well as non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions. The AfPak Hands mem­bers will be dis­bursed to dif­fer­ent units through­out Afghanistan, with a few sta­tioned in Pak­istan.

The new­com­ers are lead­ing the way for the next two AfPak Hands cohorts, one cur­rent­ly in lan­guage train­ing and one now in the process of being select­ed. Once all three cohorts are ful­ly trained and func­tion­ing, they will rotate through Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

They will deploy for 12 months before rotat­ing back to the Unit­ed States for a peri­od of time before return­ing, ide­al­ly to the same area and posi­tion in Afghanistan or Pak­istan. While in the Unit­ed States, they will men­tor oth­er AfPak Hands. They will stay involved in AfPak issues at one of four major hub loca­tions and fur­ther devel­op their lan­guage and cul­ture skills with DLI instruc­tors.

“I think it’s a phe­nom­e­nal pro­gram,” said Air Force Maj. Christy Bar­ry, a lawyer, who is part of the ini­tial cohort. “I wish we’d done it soon­er. I think this will turn the tide and bring peace and sta­bil­i­ty to Afghanistan. I’m hon­ored to be part of it.”

Army Lt. Col. Ken Schei­dt, an Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom vet­er­an, was the com­man­der of a mobi­liza­tion train­ing unit at Fort Lewis, Wash., before he was select­ed for AfPak Hands. He said he’ll be work­ing in a joint posi­tion in Nan­ga­har province. “I would rec­om­mend it to the right per­son,” Schei­dt said. “You have to want to do it.”

Anoth­er 125 AfPak per­son­nel are sched­uled to arrive between by the end of June, with anoth­er group arriv­ing in Sep­tem­ber and one more around Novem­ber. Of the 281 bil­lets for the pro­gram, 253 will be sta­tioned in Afghanistan, with 28 in Pak­istan. It is equal­ly impor­tant for ISAF to devel­op the rela­tion­ships with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary as it is with the Afghan peo­ple and army, Kent said.

At the most basic lev­el, Mason, an Afghanistan vet­er­an who will be sta­tioned in an engi­neer office in Tarin Kowt, said she want­ed to help make the AfPak Hands pro­gram bet­ter for the next group. She said she expects to use her engi­neer back­ground in the field and to inter­act with local woman.

“I’m hop­ing that I can go beyond my nor­mal job if I were to just deploy with the Air Force — the nor­mal day-to-day tasks,” Mason said. “I’d like to have a lit­tle more inter­ac­tion with the local pop­u­la­tion and see how using my tal­ents — in the engi­neer­ing field, and now the lan­guage skills – may be tai­lored to what we can do for them based on what [the Afghan peo­ple] want from us.”

Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force