Special to American Forces Press Service
March 24, 2008 - The landscape in Afghanistan's Zabul province reminds some Americans of a scene from a western movie. So did Afghan law enforcement when Army Capt. Curtiss Robinson and his police mentoring team rode into the province's Shahjoy district. Robinson recalled that the police force there at the time was really nothing more than a "posse," because they had enthusiasm but no formal police training.
There were no police advisors in Shahjoy before Robinson's team got there in July, so the first step was to create a training plan for the police.
Robinson is an Army logistics officer with civilian law enforcement experience in South Carolina. Others on his team also had police experience, so they used it and their military training to teach the Afghans some fundamental policing skills.
The next step came from Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, which implemented a new "focused district development" strategy late last year to reform the Afghan National Police and improve local governance, public works and the rule of law.
Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, with the Interior Ministry and the international community, developed a plan to take all the police out of their communities, retrain and re-equip them at regional training centers, and send them back to their districts.
Seven of the most challenging police districts were chosen for the first training cycle. Three of them, including Shahjoy, were from Zabul province.
During the eight-week course at the Jalalabad regional training center, Shahjoy's police learned about general police duties, weapons, building clearance, first aid, human rights and Afghan law and culture. After graduating, the police returned to their district and police mentoring team advisors began the next phase: sustainment training and advising. Now that they've been trained what to do, Robinson explained, they need to practice how to do it.
The Afghan police officers will have to improve their skills quickly; after they returned to Shahjoy, Taliban insurgents also began returning to the area.
The commander of Nowrak patrol base, Lt. Fazal Rahman, took his men on a patrol and found a prepared fighting position with four rocket-propelled grenades for attacking passing trucks. It was only 25 meters from Highway One.
U.S. Army Capt. Dave Perry leads the Shahjoy district police mentoring team and has developed a patrol plan for the police officers. Rather than have them wait for trouble on the road, he wants them to patrol the nearby villages, where most of the security threats originate.
"Policing before was static," he said. "We're getting them out in the community to show the people some government representation so they know the police are there to help."
The next day, Rahman's men patrolled Nowrak village and Perry accompanied them through the village to introduce them to the village elders. The local citizens provide information, Perry said, and helping them is the heart of "community-based policing."
The police in Shahjoy no longer resemble a "posse," and officials hope having a professional police force will make the district seem less like the Wild West. Police Chief Mohammed Rasool said that perhaps someday the police in Shahjoy will need to carry only nightsticks – not guns.
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David M. Votroubek serves with the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs Office.)