News: Afghan-led coordination centers take shape
Story by Capt. Kenneth Stewart
AFGHANISTAN - Think of it as an Afghan version of the Department of Homeland Security. The mission of the Operational Coordination Center, Regional East is to coordinate the efforts of an alphabet soup mix of Afghan security organizations in response to national and local crises.
The OCCR is led by Afghan National Army Brig. Gen Muhammad Daood (Andarabi) and Afghan Uniformed Police Col. Fazel Ahmad Wasiq.
Daood and Wasiq have a combined 61 years of public service. Each officer brings specialized skills to the OCCR. Daood’s years of military service complement Wasiq’s decades of police work.
Daood and Wasiq are assisted by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michael Kelley of Sarasota, Fla., senior advisor to the Gardez OCCR. He works side by side with Daood and Waziq to solve complex problems that require coordination between the coalition and various Afghan national security forces.
Kelley is uniquely suited to serve in the OCCR. He is a member of Afghan Hands, a language and cultural immersion initiative intended to build trust between the military and local populations in Afghanistan. Kelley also has years of special operations and civil affairs experience. He has taught graduate-level courses on terrorism and has a passion for connecting to multicultural audiences.
The layout of the Gardez OCCR reflects its unique mission. Representatives from nearly every security force in eastern Afghanistan surround a large central room. Staff members sit side by side to share information and plan future operations.
The integration of American, Polish and Afghan units at the OCCR is a model of successful international partnership. Despite the group’s diversity, there is a genuine sense of cooperation that pervades the organization. Western and Afghan forces at the OCCR even put aside their religious differences to pray together prior to each mission.
“We are a big family,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Rolando Colon Jr. of New York, operations sergeant major and noncommissioned officer in charge of the OCCR East. “Our ANA partners know us at a personal level.”
Colon described the manner in which he and his Afghan partners joke with one another and share tea as well as office space. He attributes his ability to work with other cultures to his Latin ancestry.
“As a member of the Latin culture, I know what it feels like to have to overcome communication and cultural barriers,” said Colon.
In Ghazni Province, the Operational Coordination Center, Provincial performs OCCR duties at the provincial level. The OCCP Ghazni shares the OCCR’s philosophy:
“We are not politicians just exchanging words,” said Polish Naval Cmdr. Jaroslaw Wypijewski, senior advisor to the Ghazni OCCP. “We are brothers in arms. When you put boots on the ground, that speaks louder than words.”
Wypijewski brings a unique perspective to the OCCP and OCCR missions. He witnessed firsthand his nation’s transition from totalitarianism to democracy and seeks to apply the lessons learned by his nation to Afghanistan.
“We have learned how to use nonkinetic solutions from our own (Polish) history,” said Wypijewski. “We were able to transition from communism to a free and democratic Poland without violence. Those same lessons can be applied here in Afghanistan.”
Wypijewski’s OCCP sits alongside a stretch of Highway 1 in Ghazni. It is not an isolated outpost. By sitting in the heart of the city, the OCCP maintains access to the people it serves. This level of access poses challenges, but it also pays dividends.
Despite the relative infancy of the organization, it still has neither an operations or an intelligence officer, the OCCP has been able to defuse some potentially deadly situations.
In one example of nonkinetic combined action, OCCP staff members learned of a planned demonstration in the heart of the city. Two local politicians felt they had been treated unfairly during recent elections and threatened to take to the streets. OCCP officers recognized a demonstration in a congested area could quickly get out of hand. They met the demonstration organizers at their homes to discuss their grievances and helped them to organize a media conference in lieu of a mass demonstration. Their solution defused a potentially dangerous situation and offered the aggrieved parties a healthy venue in which to vent their frustrations.
The OCCPs and OCCRs blooming across Afghanistan are still a work in progress. They are in the first phase of their development, but they have lofty goals. In the future, they will have their own quick reaction forces and be able to take tips from local nationals.
Dispatchers are being trained in Kabul for the Guardians of Peace, an OCCR initiative that provides monetary rewards to local citizens for reporting criminal and insurgent activity.
Despite the cooperation and recent successes of the OCCRs and OCCPs, there are still significant challenges that must be tackled. Polish servicemembers at the Ghazni OCCP sleep six men to a room built for one and have to share cots. They have also had to work as carpenters, plumbers and electricians to keep the OCCP functioning due to maintenance contract issues.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Larry Daley of Preston, Mass., senior advisor to the Wardak OCCP, described similar challenges but seemed unfazed by the austere conditions.
“Sometimes less is more,” said Daley. “If we had more space, we’d need more power, more power means more generators; more generators create a greater demand for fuel. After a while, we would be spending all of our time maintaining ourselves and be unable to focus our mission.”
Challenges aside, staff members are hopeful. Both Wipijewski and Kelley see progress.
“In the two months I have been here, (the Afghan staff at OCCP Ghazni) have become well orientated to task and organization. The staff knows our priorities and expectations,” said Wypijewski.
Kelley pointed to the successful organization of combined logistics patrols as a sign of progress. He also noted the recently approved selection of a site in downtown Gardez, which will eventually serve as the permanent home of OCCR.
Daley gave his team high marks.
“Our ANA, AUP and ISAF personnel work together extremely well.”
He also lauded the relationship between OCCP Wardak and local battle space owners.
“They are outstanding,” Daley said.
The future of the OCCR program is yet to be written, but after spending several days traveling with OCCR staff and visiting their subordinates units, the future seems bright indeed.