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    A decade after Taliban's fall, Afghan Border Police forging ahead

    A decade after Taliban's fall, ABP forging ahead

    Photo By Sgt. Marc Loi | An Afghan Border Police officer pulls security as part of a training exercise at...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Marc Loi 

    504th Military Intelligence Brigade

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan – Compared to the restless nights and 2 a.m.-nightmares Hayatyllah Afghani had when the Taliban was in power, waking up at 4 a.m. and not going to bed until after 10 p.m. is a luxury.

    A first lieutenant with the Afghan Border Police, the 47 year old is charged with the Afghan-led training of some of the 160,000 Afghan security forces personnel the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan needs as it becomes less reliant on NATO forces and more self-sufficient.

    On an unusually warm November day in southern Kandahar, he stood by the side of the road, his 6’2-frame casting a shadow on the ground as he watched students from the ABP non-commissioned officers course run through a training scenario.

    Kneeling around the green pick-up truck were a dozen ABP officers, their weapons pointed outward to simulate a brief stop on a combat patrol. A blow of the whistle broke the tense silence as the students hopped onto the back of the pickup before it began moving again. Slowly but surely, the vehicle trucked along, before picking up speed and moved out of sight. Afghani smiled approvingly as he snapped to attention to return a salute from a student.

    Ten years ago, in the beginning days of Operation Enduring Freedom, the scene being played out wouldn’t have been possible.

    A soldier in the previous regimes prior to the Taliban’s 1996 takeover, Hayatyllah Afghani was forced to give up his uniform and live under a totalitarian government that once beat him with a cable for shaving his beard. The night Americans took over Kandahar, Afghani watched from his window, and as soon as the bombardments stopped, brought his uniform out of the closet and began wearing it again. Ever since then, he’s been a part of the security forces in which NATO places its hopes of one day being able to defend its own country.

    “When the Americans came and started bombing the airfield, it was the happiest day of my life,” Afghani said as he poured tea for visiting guests. “The Taliban ran, and I put on my uniform and told my sons to put on their uniforms.”

    That uniform would remain on for a decade. Now the Kandahar native, whose previous combat experience includes a stint under Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai’s presidency from 1986 to 1992, oversees the training of ABP recruits and non-commissioned officers at Training Center Kostel, just seven miles north of the Afghan-Pakistan border. The strategic location of the training site is especially critical as it offers local Afghans a chance to train near the mountains and hillsides they grew up around as children.

    That familiarity, along with knowing who belongs and doesn’t belong in their neighborhood, allow the officers to conduct their jobs more effectively, Afghani said.

    Once formidable, the Taliban networks, according to the latest intelligence sources, have broken up into smaller subsets. Short on money and relentlessly chased by NATO forces, the remaining fighters are using border crossings to enter Afghanistan. It will be up to the ABP officers Afghani and his crew train to be the proverbial gatekeepers at these border crossings.

    Though Afghan officers conduct this training, they still rely on U.S. and NATO forces to aid as mentors and advisors. Afghani estimates that the ABP is about 70 percent ready to stand on its own, though NATO and U.S. personnel, acting in advisory roles, still help improve the standards that, he confided, is still far too low.

    Sitting under the shade provided by a tarp next to the training area, Afghani was flanked by two of his most senior trainers during a lunch break. They’d spent the better part of the last decade with the ABP and with that experience, have risen in the ranks. Along with that also came the responsibility of passing on their experiences to younger ABP officers, and although they are the ones responsible for the training and mentorship of the ABP officers who will one day rise into their own ranks and positions, they are also aided by American soldiers, a fact Afghani said he is glad for.

    “They need to get meet the standards first before they can get better,” he said. “We have to get to those standards first, or we’re not going to get anywhere.”

    Going somewhere:

    They’d come from all over Afghanistan, some young and have known little but war their entire lives. Others are much older and experienced in warfighting, having lived through Afghanistan’s tumultuous past. Much like their American counterparts, they’d come from different cultures and spoke different languages, yet on this particular November afternoon, they stood in line awaiting lunch, some holding hands while talking and laughing. Though they are divided by language, age and tribes, their commonality since putting on the uniform is the defense of Afghanistan and the possibility of dying on the job once they graduate. For their willingness to take this risk, the ABP officers receive 12,000 Afghani - about $250 in American dollars, a month and three meals a day, along with the equipment and weapons that protect them from the Taliban – something they wouldn’t have gotten had they not signed up with the ABP.

    Much like the American soldiers who fight alongside them, some signed up for self-preservation reasons while others do so for what, in the minds, is a greater cause – the defense of their country when Afghanistan needs them most.

    Mirzakhan Miramzah is one of police officers. With a face weathered beyond his 35 years and teeth stained from a lack of healthcare, the former textile shopkeeper in the Kandahar region said he joined the ABP not because he needed a different way of living, but because of his country’s need for young men to volunteer in its defense.

    His willingness to do so, however, has also given Miramzah the added benefits he wouldn’t have otherwise gotten by simply being a shopkeeper. With his lunch of leavened flat bread, roast chicken and long-grained rice eaten, Miramzah and about two dozen other trainees filed into a tent where they learned to read and write as part of the Afghan government’s push to get its security forces educated. This particular afternoon, after they’d completed their reading and writing lessons, the trainees were given a class on basic Afghan human and women’s rights – issues trainers said are important not only because of the fundamental human rights challenges Afghanistan faces, but also because success in a nation state’s development is often interwoven with gender equality.

    “Prior to coming here I didn’t know how to read or write,” Miramzah said through an interpreter – a local Afghan with impeccable English. “I also learned to enforce and follow rules, and I am serving my country by doing that.”

    Though the bulk of the students’ training will focus on tactical skills, to include serving warrants, defeating improvised explosive devices, crime-scene investigations, tactical driving and riot control – all of which will help bring about a safer and more stabled Afghanistan, Afghani spoke most glowingly of the literacy and human rights education for their benefits to the officers and overall missions.

    “Money is useless if they can’t read or write,” Afghani said. “They have to be able to read the constitution and the passports they come across. They have to understand the international laws and human rights in this country as border police officers.

    “They’ve never studied human rights before,” he continued, tapping his large index finger on the wooden lunch table to make an emphasis. “How can they defend their country if they have no idea of what human rights are?”

    To meet that educational end state, the curriculum include tactical maneuvers in the mornings during the four-month course and, in the afternoons, they all sit in a classroom for literacy classes, and receive lectures from trainers on the Afghan constitution and the fundamental human rights each Afghan is afforded.

    Although human rights issues have improved in Afghanistan since 2001 when the Bonn Agreement was signed by a delegation of prominent Afghans in Bonn, Germany, women’s rights remain pedestrian in the country that, according to a 2011 study by the World Health Organization, continues to flounder in its efforts to push forth gender equality.

    The study went on to report that nearly 88 percent of women in Afghanistan have experienced some forms of violence and that although illegal, forced and child marriages continue to be problems. In most cases, the study concluded, Afghan National Security Forces personnel did or was willing to do little about it, despite having sworn to uphold the law. To ameliorate this, the Afghan constitution, passed in 2010, includes pillars that speak specifically about women’s rights as the nation strives toward gender equality. The clauses called for a more robust effort in the education of girls which, under the Taliban hovered a dismal 10 percent, equal in representation of women and men in government, and declared that “the citizens of Afghanistan – whether man or woman – have equal rights before the law,” effectively giving women rights to vote without the permission of the family’s patriarch.

    Still, challenges remain because of cultural constraints and because much of Afghanistan’s rural areas, where many of the ABP personnel will patrol, are still under tribal rules. As a result of this, a major part of the class’s goal is to impress upon the officers that part of their duties is to uphold the law.

    “We follow God’s laws and we follow the Afghan constitution,” Miramzah said. “And what is said in the constitution is also said in the Koran – God said we should value women and not hit or abuse them, and we’re teaching our kids that.”

    Slowly, that attitude is penetrating the police officers’ minds not only when they’re on the job, but also in their everyday lives. A father of six children, Miramzah said the class also taught him to treat his own children fairly regardless of their gender, because they’re each just as important under the law, as well as God.

    “What I buy for my sons, I also buy for my daughter,” he said. “When my sons get educated, I want my daughters to get educated, too.”

    Sitting close by Miramzah, Afghani nodded at the student’s quick absorption of the lessons. With a kitten by his side, Afghani points to it and confided that he, too, has a daughter and the tiny feline was a parting gift from the five year old as he left for duty.

    “My daughter has a future,” Afghani said. “That’s because of the Americans. Each time I leave, she begs to come with us so she can see and live with Americans.”

    Living Among Americans:

    In an August 2010 letter to service members assigned to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistant Forces, Gen. David Petraeus, then the ISAF commanding general, highlighted a 24-point plan for success within counterinsurgency warfare – the doctrine Petraeus himself developed for Iraq and hoped to apply in Afghanistan with similar results.

    Among the plan was to “live, eat, train, plan and operate together … respect [local forces].” Petraeus, now director of the Central Intelligence Agency, surmised doing so will not only allow NATO forces to gain better understandings and situational awareness of what truly goes on within Afghanistan’s forces and the small villages and cities, but also allows Afghans to learn from their counterparts in what Lt. James Ingerick, the academy’s officer in charge, dubbed as the “what’s good for you is what’s good for me” mentality.

    In their roles as advisors, American soldiers sleep and eat side-by-side with their Afghan counterparts, Ingerick said, and as a result, have picked up on the cultural nuances as well as be more able to accurately decipher the needs of the soldiers and officers.

    “We’ve had to overcome some cultural differences,” Ingerick said. “But we’re taking lessons learned from Iraq – we first have to get them up to their standards before we can expand the training program.”

    One of the reasons this hands-off attitude has worked, Ingerick said, is that many of the soldiers already come from military backgrounds, having fought in previous skirmishes in their country’s long warring history. With that experience also comes expertise in certain areas that make them more competent to lead the training than the American forces. As an example, Afghans are known for their map reading skills - something trainers said comes as almost a second nature to them and cannot be replicated inside the classroom by American forces.

    “Most of these guys were here fighting the Russians and the Taliban also, and they’ve lived here all their lives, so they know the area,” he said. “We’re just here to steer them when we need to, but overall, they’re the ones doing the training.”

    Yet, some things American cannot let slide. In the beginning stages of living and training together, an ABP instructor approached Cpl. Evan Rhoden asking for a stick, the American advisor and military police officer said. The reason, Rhoden found out, was that instructors did not believe the students would take them seriously unless they used the stick as a show of force and authority. That plan was quickly nixed and since then, with the guidance of American soldiers, Afghan trainers have found more appropriate ways to give orders in the course of the training.

    “We have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with a different culture and they are too, and that we’re each taking baby steps,” Rhoden said. “They’re in charge and when we see something that needs changing, we propose the idea, it just all depends on how you say it.”

    Sitting down to the afternoon meal, an ABP officer made a face and quietly, albeit jokingly, complained that it was chicken for lunch again. Like many of their counterparts in the American Army, the Afghan security forces personnel miss their family and the home-cooked meals they’d grown accustomed to. Afghani smiled at the officer’s mild complaint, recalling the days when he was a soldier and his unit stuck on one of Afghanistan’s mountain tops without much supplies.

    “They don’t know that they have it good,” he said. “When I was a soldier, sometimes when we were on the mountains, the bread was so hard because it was cold, that we had to melt snow to soften it.
    “This is like a dream come true for me,” he added.

    Yet, Afghani has been around long enough to understand, he said, that part of soldier culture is to complain, even only if lightheartedly. When they are needed, however, the ABP officers will stand up to fight for Afghanistan regardless of the situation or what was being served, he said.

    “I am not worried because they are better than the Taliban,” Afghani said, pointing at a group of soldiers standing in formation.

    Though it isn’t clear whether Afghani’s confidence in the police officers is bravado, designed to motivate the trainees, or a true belief in the group’s ability to hold its own, observers can say with clear certainties that a decade after Americans landed in Afghanistan, the country is much safer thanks to its security forces, and particularly the APB.

    The number of ANSF casualties, which was as high as 100 each month during some of the country’s most troubled times, has slowly dwindled over the years and Afghans are taking the lead in conducting raids and patrols, with American and NATO forces assisting in the operations. Just last month at the southern-most checkpoint where some of these ABP officers will one day patrol, more than 5,000 pounds of homemade explosives were found in a joint operation led by Afghan forces. These successes continue, and in the military’s crawl-walk-run culture, the ABP is, it seems, slowly but surely moving forward.

    “I think they’re 70 percent ready,” Afghani said. “It starts with the basic, but they’re doing very well, and when they are 100 percent ready, if Americans must go, they can go.”



    Date Taken: 12.07.2011
    Date Posted: 12.07.2011 07:38
    Story ID: 80993
    Location: SPIN BOLDAK, AF 

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