By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 7, 2008 - The coalition has initiated a "focused district development" program in volatile southern Afghanistan to reform community police forces, a military official said yesterday. "[The program is] improving the security of the local people and building their confidence in the government of Afghanistan," Army Col. Thomas McGrath, commander of Afghanistan Regional Security Command South, said in a teleconference with online journalists and "bloggers."
McGrath explained that the focused district development program removes Afghan police forces from their district for eight weeks to complete uniformed-officer training at a central location. The local police are backfilled with the Afghan national civil police -- a highly trained national police force -- during the eight-week training period, he said.
Almost 700 Afghan uniformed police have graduated from the focused district development program to date, McGrath said. The first class, from three districts in Afghanistan's Zabul province, graduated and reoccupied their areas in March, he added.
McGrath said the police training has led to more professional, better equipped Afghan police forces in the districts that have been through the program. "They're well trained, well equipped, in uniform, doing the right thing, [and] supporting the people," he said.
The police forces the coalition initially encountered in southern Afghan provinces were untrained, poorly equipped, and not in uniform, McGrath explained.
"It's also a first for the people of that area, because they're seeing Afghan national police stepping up [and] very proudly doing their job," he added.
McGrath said the newly trained and equipped Afghan police already are helping coalition forces fight insurgency. Afghan national police are engaging the Taliban, he said, and they have killed 60 to 70 Taliban fighters over the last couple weeks.
"That's a first for the Taliban," he said, "that they're getting killed by the [Afghan National Police]." He added that intelligence reports indicate confusion among Taliban fighters because they are being attacked by Afghan police forces.
Afghan police also have started regularly patrolling roads, which McGrath said enables them to disrupt and interdict enemy operations.
"They used to like to sit around on checkpoints along the roads, doing nothing or shaking down the population," he said. "Now, we have [them] patrolling in the street, patrolling along major highways and also in the countryside, where they're able to disrupt and interdict Taliban operations."
McGrath said a U.S. infantry unit -- 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines -- will help Afghanistan Regional Security Command South throughout the summer and into the winter during future iterations of the focused district development program.
"[They] had the police mission in Iraq and served as police trainers," McGrath said, "so they bring a lot of experience in the kinetic and also the nonkinetic parts of the fight.
"The Marines are here to do the right thing -- build a better police force, which in turn will help build a better government and security for the people of Afghanistan," he added.
(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)