COMBAT OUTPOST KOWALL, Afghanistan, March 9, 2011 — A program through which villagers augment the police in providing and maintaining security is taking root in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, a former Taliban stronghold.
During Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ visit to this remote outpost yesterday, the commander of the area’s task force briefed reporters accompanying the secretary on the growth of the Afghan Local Police program.
Army Lt. Col. David Flynn, commander of Task Force 1–320 and 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, said the program is modeled after a larger effort further south, coordinated by Special Forces troops.
Flynn walked with reporters down a one-lane dirt road passing through the village of Tabin, the main thoroughfare between the provincial capital and Arghandab district. It connects to the only bridge across the Arghandab River for at least six miles, he said.
The road is an important avenue of commerce in the area, and also serves as a potential target for insurgents. Task force and Afghan army and police members in his area of responsibility add up to some 1,600, Flynn said, and the local police bring an additional, village-level component to district defense.
“[Their] responsibilities are to augment the Afghan police,” Flynn explained. “They are a branch of the Afghan National Police, and they maintain security within their village.” The Tabin local police, he emphasized, are responsible for defense and law enforcement only for their village. They “can’t mount up and head to other villages to perform security measures,” he added.
The village is one of several local police sites the task force works with on the north side of the river, Flynn said, and Kowall is one of 17 combat outposts his task force uses. Tabin has 10 “vetted and confirmed” local police members, and nine more are in the training and vetting process, Flynn said.
Overall, the Arghandab district is authorized 300 local police police members, and the district police chief has asked the Afghan interior ministry increase that number to 500, the colonel told reporters. Tabin, enclosed by mud-brick walls and home to about 1,000 residents, likely will have a local police force of not more than 20, said he added.
The confirmation process for local police candidates is designed to ensure they will protect their villages and remain loyal to the Afghan government, Flynn explained. Village elders must vouch for each candidate, then the district police chief and U.S. Special Forces complete a background check and medical and biometric screening for each potential member.
Villages along the Arghandab River are only a few hundred meters apart, Flynn said, and interest in the concept is spreading quickly.
Local police receive slightly less pay than national police, and are issued weapons and uniforms, Flynn said. The U.S. military is involved in training and validating candidates, Flynn said, but the program is designed for Afghan government oversight.
U.S. forces pass responsibility for fully fledged local police members to the Afghan interior ministry, which is responsible for the Afghan National Police, as quickly as possible, Flynn said.
Army Maj. Tom Burrell, the battalion’s operations officer, spoke to reporters inside the outpost, which is so close to Tabin that a chicken from the village pecked around his feet as he spoke. After nearly a year of working with Afghan forces, Burrell said, the task force members see that the area around the outpost has changed since the battalion arrived.
“A year ago, even as recently as six months ago, I wouldn’t have driven a vehicle down that road, let alone walk down it,” Burrell said. “This was definitely a Taliban-held area, the whole Arghandab River valley, … that has really only recently changed.” By living and working near the local people, the task force members were able to work with villagers for more than a month setting up the first local police structure, he added.
“It’s been a combination of word of mouth, and us sort of nudging it along,” he said.
But although the battalion has seen a dramatic change in the area -– children in the village played freely outside, which doesn’t happen if insurgents are in the area, Burrell said -– the local population remains skeptical.
“It’s not necessarily a bad skepticism,” he said. “You’re talking about people who have seen war for decades, and now we’re talking about a change that’s only months long.”
Still, he added, the people are hesitantly positive, and the local police movement serves to link remote villages more tightly to the district and national governments in the hope of promoting growing, long-range stability.
Gates met with new local police members, village elders and district government representatives in Tabin. The secretary said he was encouraged by the sense of pride villagers displayed at having their own residents contribute to their protection.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)