By Air Force Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 13, 2008 - Surrounded by Afghan National Police, the U.S. Army staff sergeant moved the water-bottle caps around in the dirt, as if on a checkerboard. But, there was no board, and this was no game. It was training. With different obstacles facing the trainers at Forward Operating Base Scorpion, unconventional methods of training are common. The language barrier may seem to limit the training, but the trainers and mentors are committed to mission execution, no matter what the means.
Army Staff Sgt. James Parks, a police mentor team member from Buffalo, N.Y., uses the bottle caps to demonstrate a wedge formation, a type of patrolling technique. That day, his group was working on the "rush and roll," the "low crawl," and other basic combat reactions under fire. This training usually is for soldiers; however, due to the counterinsurgency environment, the Afghan National Police need these skills to survive and defeat the enemy.
"We train them in basic combat skills so they can stay alive out there," Parks said. "It seems basic to us, but it's stuff that they just don't know to do when there is enemy contact."
The majority of the police training at the Regional Training Center in Kandahar is Afghan-led, but the three American and three coalition mentors work with Afghan police commanders and trainers to coach and advise the new recruits on basic combat skills.
"The language barrier is the biggest obstacle we face," Parks said.
Just like the bottle caps, the U.S. mentor team used colored blocks to demonstrate how to clear a building. They assigned colored blocks to each police officer on the clearing team and set corresponding colored blocks on the inside of the building. That way, the police would know by looking at the colored blocks where they needed to position themselves once inside the building.
Once the police officers finish the eight-week course at the RTC, they are sent out to districts in southern Afghanistan. But their training doesn't stop once they're in the field.
Regional Police Advisory Command South, with headquarters at FOB Scorpion, acts as a command post for several police mentor teams spread out through Afghanistan's southern districts. Nearly 10,000 ANP officers work in the field, and the mentor teams travel from district to district to train, advise and mentor the police.
Army Col. John Cuddy, Regional Police Advisory Command South commander, oversees training for the RTC and the police mentor teams.
"The mentors and the PMTs are the front-runners of our mission here," he said. "It's amazing what these men are doing with what they have."
Cuddy said the mentor teams visit the district police after they have left the regional training center and ensure they sustained those skills learned during training and are conducting their basic function as police officers: to serve and protect. The PMTs also ensure the police are getting paid and fed.
"If the ANP aren't paid, they go AWOL. If they aren't armed, they get killed in the night," he said.
Cuddy said reports of real progress come from the districts.
"We are getting feedback that the Taliban doesn't recognize the ANP they fight now," he said. "The ANP are starting to fight back. Before, they didn't have the training in basic fighting or survival skills, so they would surrender or run."
Afghan Brig. Gen. Nassurullah Zarifi, commander of the Afghan National Police Kandahar Regional Training Center, has more than 35 years of experience, including time with the Afghan National Army. He worked for 16 years as an instructor in the ANA before he was transferred to the RTC.
"We have 350 students here, but not enough instructors. The American and coalition instructors help us to educate our people," he said. "While they are here, my instructors, deputies and myself work hard to ensure the students are trained properly and will do their job correctly when they leave the RTC to go to their communities."
He said he receives positive feedback from the provinces about the police who graduated from the eight-week training program at the RTC.
"They are happy to have the new ANPs in their community," Zarifi said. "This is a long process, not a short-term answer. We are working on the security for the future of Afghanistan."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio serves with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)