By Christen N. McCluney
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
July 22, 2010 - NATO Training Mission Afghanistan's new liaison officer is finding ways to bring together local organizations and protect and serve the Afghan people.
NATO Training Mission Afghanistan created the liaison officer position this year as a way to reach out to Afghan and international NGOs and international organizations.
"The point was to ensure that civil society could play a role in shaping the training and reform of the security forces," Army Capt. A. Heather Coyne, NTM-A's, NGO and International Organization liaison officer said during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable July 21.
The goal is to also make sure that these organizations have the access they need to Afghan National Security Forces officials, processes and institutions to make them more accountable and responsive to communities.
One of the main groups Coyne has been working with is the Afghan police. "Police are the most visible face of the government and therefore it has been one of our highest priorities to build public confidence in the police force," she said.
There are three main areas that Coyne's office is working on to create better relationships with the police and the community. They include: increasing NGO involvement in training the police in the areas of human and civil rights; having community consultations; and showing people that the police are there to serve and protect them by doing community outreach such as fire prevention, interfacing with schools, teaching first aid and community sports.
The NATO training mission has been working to improve professionalization and training so that better police are on the street, Coyne said. Her office also is looking at how citizens interact and can play a role in making the police more accountable and responsive to the community.
"[Police] don't want to be hated by their communities," Coyne said. "They want to do the right thing. They just don't have much [of an] idea of what it takes to serve the people."
Many Afghan civil society organizations, Coyne said, are working to make Afghan police officers aware of community issues like human rights, violence against women, and juvenile justice.
"What we are trying to do with this NGO outreach is to create channels between the citizens and the ANSF so that Afghans can defend their own interests and bring their own pressure to bear for reform so that we aren't the only watchdogs in town," she said.
Coyne's office also facilitates consultations between the Afghan police and the citizens they serve. She said many citizens' complaints involve situations that the police officers can change immediately.
In one community meeting, Coyne recalled, the police and a local NGO came up with a solution on housing women victims that were picked up by police and needed to be detained overnight. The NGO volunteered to pick up the women, let them stay in a safe house and return them in the morning so the police could continue investigations.
"It's not just about public confidence in the police -- this is a two-way street," Coyne said. "The police can't succeed without the help and endorsement of the public and civil society organizations."
Afghan citizens and the police both want to create an environment where they can work together, Coyne said.
"When people trust their police they will be more willing to share intel about the bad guys and when people feel that their security forces and their government are there to protect and serve -- not to extort and abuse -- there will be less insurgency," she said.
"All you have to do," Coyne continued, "is see how proud the police are of themselves when they finish their first course on safety for a bunch of school kids and you know there is real potential here that we can tap."