Task Force Works With Afghan Local Police

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)

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