News: The Gates of Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Eric Provost
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghanistan shares its border with six other countries including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China, and even Iran. However, it could be argued that no other stretch of the country’s rim is as significant as it’s eastern border, one shared with Pakistan.
Sitting on that line between the two nations is Torkham, a town that holds incredible significance for Afghanistan.
“About 75 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product passes through the Torkham border crossing point,” said U.S. Army Capt. Kevin Boldt, commander, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. “In addition to that, Torkham Gate, as it’s known, is adjacent to the Khyber Pass which for centuries has been a key link to south and central Asia.”
Boldt and his soldiers provide a U.S. presence at the Tokham border crossing which also holds significant strategic importance being the point that connects Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to Pakistan.
“Primarily, while we’re down at the gate, [our] mission is still security, but with that we work closely with the Afghan National Security Forces down there, mainly the Afghan Border Police and also the National Directorate of Security,” said Boldt.
With ANSF at the point where they can take the lead in securing their own country, it has become the duty of the ABP to take point in securing the border at Torkham. Company C still makes multiple trips to the gate each week, however, to remind people they are still there.
Another reason the unit takes so many trips down to the border is that they serve as escorts for Forward Operating Base Torkham’s Border Management Task Force.
The BMTF is a group of civilian contractors who are tied in with the Customs Border Protection Agency under the department of Homeland Security. They work out of FOB Torkham providing mentorship to the various agencies who work at the border crossing.
“My job is the professional development and training of the Afghan Border Police at Torkham Gate,” says Roland Gonzalez, a border law enforcement professional on the BMTF. “I know how important it is to do the job and I train the Afghans using the experience that I have.”
Gonzalez spent 27 years as a border patrol agent working out of San Diego, Calif., and arrived in Torkham in early 2013 to pass on the skills he’s gained over a lifelong career to what he says are eager students.
“They’re willing to learn. They want to learn. They accept me for my experience and they want to learn. They ask good questions when we’re having a class. We exchange ideas and they ask me ‘what would you do in a situation like this?’” said Gonzalez.
He admits though that working the Afghanistan/Pakistan border at Torkham is very different than it was for him in southern California and he respects the type of men who are willing to do it.
“We don’t hear about it in the news but Afghan Border Police are getting killed daily, they’re getting killed doing their jobs so it’s important that we train them and that we treat them with the dignity and the respect that they deserve,” said Gonzalez.
Members of the BMTF also mentor Afghan customs agents as well as members of the Afghan Customs Police who work at Torkham Gate. The Company C soldiers who escort the BMTF say they’ve seen noticeable advancements in terms of how effective their Afghan counterparts at the gate are operating.
“The main thing we see is improvement,” said Boldt. “In the time the Border Management Task Force has been here, the systems have become a lot more effective and also through some of our programs in training the ABP, they’ve become more efficient and proficient at doing their searches and keeping contraband from entering the country.”