News: Afghans take control of Mehtar lam’s security
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - More than 100 Afghan and senior coalition officials were on hand to witness the official transition of security control from U.S. to Afghan forces in Mehtar lam during a ceremony held at the provincial governor’s compound July 19.
Coalition military leaders like Great Britain army Lt. Gen. James Bucknall, International Security Assistance Force deputy commander and Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, 1st Cavalry Division commander, joined Laghman Gov. Mohammad Iqbal Azizi and others to recognize this first step toward Afghan independence.
“Transition sends a powerful message to insurgents and is a tangible demonstration that will improve citizens’ lives in the future,” Bucknall said.
Mehtar lam is one of seven areas being turned over to Afghan security forces in ceremonies around the country this week, including the provinces of Bamyan, Panjshir and Kabul (except for the Surobi District), and the cities of Herat in the west, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, Lashkar Gah in the country’s southern Helmand Province.
In spite of extra security, a pair of rockets landed about two kilometers from the compound, but did nothing to disrupt the event.
Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Afghan Transition Coordinator, said transition will be a process that will require work and patience from the people and the government alike.
“Transition will be both easy and hard. It will be easier if the people support the process and help the government continue to improve the positive security environment,” Ghani said through an interpreter. “It will be hard if the people do not work across tribal lines to solve their issues.”
According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Adrian Donahoe, commander of Security Force Assistance Team No. 1, a small unit of police advisers who are working closely with Afghan law enforcement agencies in and around Mehtar lam, the ceremony was more of a formality, as Afghan Uniform Police have been conducting their own patrols and assumed control of the city’s security weeks ago.
“While they definitely have a long way to go, there is much to be optimistic about in Mehtar lam,” Donahoe said.
He conducted a joint patrol recently as part of a training mission and was met with smiles and waves from many citizens. He and his team were teaching the Afghan police to build relationships with the populace in the hopes of improving security in the city.
According to Donahoe, his optimism started with solid leadership in the Afghan Uniform Police, a confidence point in the province’s population center and a clearly defined way forward.
He said, both the AUP chief and command sergeant major in Laghman Province are true leaders and law enforcement professionals. They understand what it is like leading a police force in a counterinsurgency environment. The chief, AUP Col. Ghulan Aziz Gharanai, spent more than 30 years in the Afghan National Police, serving previously as an intelligence and security officer in Kabul and Kandahar.
“They understand that the police are not soldiers. There are limits to what they can do,” said Donahoe.
As part of the transition process, observation and advising are critical to success, said Donahoe.
“Teaching the Afghan police that more frequent two and three-man patrols with the intent of building relationships with the populace is a lot better than a 14 to 20-man patrol who might do more to intimidate than ingratiate,” Donahoe said.
In addition, walking through the markets of densely-populated Mehtar lam alongside the AUP and interacting with the people brings a whole new perspective — one you won’t get as you drive by looking out the window of a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, the colonel added.
The team is using a “crawl, walk, run” approach in training the Afghans. Step one: begin with a split patrol walking through the traditionally safer parts of the city during daylight hours to get them comfortable with the idea of smaller patrols. Step two: move into some of areas that are perceived as more hostile. Step three: conduct night-time patrols in all areas. All this will be done in a “by, with and through” approach with this combined team working alongside the Afghans. Donahoe said all this will be done over the next three months as the team continues to advise the Afghan police.
While most of the team’s efforts are concentrated in and around Mehtar lam the colonel has plans for other areas including conducting joint operations in the southern part of the province along Highway 7 in the Qarghayi District as well as developing a holistic security plan in the newly-formed Bad Pach District in the western part of Laghman.
The colonel’s philosophy, “I control nothing, but I can influence everything,” will be tested over the next several months as he and the other law enforcement professionals attached to SFA Team No. 1 work to empower and professionalize Laghman’s eager police force.
Transition, therefore, will not be an immediate hand-off, but more of a gradual turnover that can be sustainable well into the future, Donahoe said.