By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 19, 2008 - The 1st Marine Division's 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines' is focusing on Afghan people, not on fighting terrorists, the battalion commander said May 16. "What's unique about our mission is that we're doing a police training and mentoring mission, as opposed to coming in here kinetically like a lot of our past exploits have been, especially in Iraq," Marine Corps Lt. Col. Richard Hall told online journalists and "bloggers" in a teleconference.
The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, deployed at the end of March for this mission to assist Afghanistan's Regional Security Command South with their focused district development program for Afghan police. The program rotates local police forces through eight weeks of uniformed-officer training at a central location, while highly trained Afghan national civil police work in their districts.
Hall explained that the battalion also will facilitate "in-district reform" police training for districts the Afghan national civil police are unable to backfill due to personnel shortages. "That is kind of the way that we can fast-track getting more of these districts [to] get their police trained," he said.
The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, had success in Iraq executing the police mission in Anbar province, Hall said, and he added that before this deployment, the battalion completed a month-long training exercise called "Mojave Viper," designed specifically to prepare them for the police situation in Afghanistan.
"We spent quite a bit of time focusing on escalation-of-force vignettes," he said. That training, he explained, focuses on the civil portion of police work.
Though the battalion will do the quantifiable work of improving the Afghans' policing skills, Hall said, the enduring piece of the training will need to be the mentoring and character development -- "in other words, doing the right thing when no one is looking," he said.
"The reason for that is, whether or not we get replaced, ... we need to teach a man to fish so that they could be self-sufficient with or without our presence," he explained. "They need to have the credibility and the respectability of their people in order to maintain that law and order presence, even if we're absent."
Hall said he believes that since the Marines and the Afghans are both "of a warrior culture," the battalion will be able to earn the credibility needed to influence and affect the character of the district police officers.
"I think [the Afghans are] ... going to catch the sense that we're really sincere about our mission and what we're trying to do, and they're going to make no distinction between us and them," Hall said. "I think that's really going to add to the character piece, because they absolutely do respect that of other men -- you know, sharing the danger and so forth."
But although that factor works in his favor, he acknowledged, it won't be easy.
"We don't pretend that it's not going to be a huge challenge," he said. "The truth will be in action, when we actually get out there, and we give it a try. We can only hope that everything I've said comes true."
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of the American Forces Information Service.)