News: 'Cujo' sights locked on transition, team safety
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Fahey
KABUL, Afghanistan - As Task Force Cujo’s armored tactical vehicles rolled up to the secure gates of the Afghan National Police’s District 11 headquarters, the mood grew ominous – a sense that indicated the 11-person coalition ANP advising unit was there to help but on a higher state of alert.
“If something pops off sergeant, just hit the ground – I’ll saw the room in half,” said Cujo 3 Gunner Spc. Eric Saunders.
“Relax, Saunders,” replied Cujo Team Leader Sgt. Scott Shively. “Just stay alert and ready.”
Afghan security forces have killed more than 70 NATO personnel since 2007 – 12 in the past few months alone – an act known as a “green on blue” attack.
In response, coalition advisers are taking added precautions to ensure their lives aren’t lost while helping their Afghan counterparts assume full control of their country’s security in 2014.
These precautions were not lost on the ANP assigned to District 11. As Cujo’s vehicles parked inside the headquarters’ walls, Afghan police secured their rifles inside a small room and maintained an observable distance – a voluntary demonstration of trust. Smiles and handshakes were offered as Deputy Police Chief Col. Mohammad Arif welcomed Shively and his security detail inside his office – roughly 100 meters in a direct line of sight of Saunders’ M249 belt-fed machine gun.
The group sat down to discuss training, obstacles and successes.
“We have a good, close relationship with our coalition partners,” said Arif. “It’s unfortunate when you hear about violent events happening between our two organizations, but these actions, are the actions of individuals – not our police force. Without a good relationship between the ANP and the coalition, good security cannot be provided.”
According to a U.S. Defense Department report to the House Armed Services Committee, the majority of Green on Blue related incidents was due to personal disputes between Afghans and NATO advisers – not the collective completion of an insurgent objective. With Afghan anger spurred after the accidental burning of several Qurans in February and photos surfacing of coalition members posing with dead insurgents, Cujo must apply an Afghan-first mentality while also maintaining a vigilant security posture.
“We discussed the Quran burning specifically with the ANP who immediately understood it was a mistake, that mistakes are made on both sides and are unfortunately going to happen,” said Shively. “Despite the problems, we are still being received extremely well – that’s huge for us on the team because we can still go anywhere in Kabul to any of the police districts, trade intelligence and work together. They still appreciate us and want us to help them do their jobs.”
That job, according to platoon leader Army 1st Lt. Brian Fike, is a “phased approach to a successful transition.”
“Right now, we’re assessing the entire Kabul City Cluster in how close they are to transition – where they are with their training, their infrastructure and overall what places they are 100 percent ready to take control,” said Fike. “The next phase is having the local Afghan reporting systems fix the issues instead of us writing reports and sending them up to the Ministry of Interior. They need to be the ones who do that.”
At the ground level, Shively said trust keeps Cujo safe and progressing toward their mission. Albeit, fragmented at first.
Although ANP leaders were relieved to see Cujo, they were discouraged by only hearing about reports and not seeing results. Out of the 10 police districts and three city gates patrolled by Cujo routinely, two district headquarters need only Internet and computers to be fully functional. The others have sporadic power, no indoor plumbing or septic systems and use bombed shelters as buildings.
To fix these issues, Cujo is employing alternative methods of interaction and reporting. Lead coalition advisers are hitting the streets with Cujo to close the loop on the reporting process. These advisers interact directly with Afghan MOI officials to ensure reports are not filed blindly or ignored. Still, gathering this information through language barriers proves to be difficult.
“When you work through an interpreter to get a concrete answer on what the chiefs have issues with and what they need is very tough,” said Shively. “To increase our ability to deliver specific answers in our reports, we developed Dari information packets. From start to finish, everything is in Dari. Nothing is lost in translation.”
These packets contain the questions Cujo would normally ask when engaging ANP leadership. The district chiefs have the opportunity to fully describe their issues and articulate what they need. The packets provide Afghan MOI officials with a better picture of the problems and how to solve them.
Despite the progress, increased trust and a shared dedication to teamwork between the ANP and their coalition advisers, one last hurdle still remains: corruption. According to Shively, ANP officials throughout Kabul and Afghan civilians who are very vocal concerning the issue, corruption in Kabul is not an assumed evil carefully shrouded behind layers of honesty.
“You can see the corruption,” said Shively. “There is a very uneven distribution of materials authorized by MOI to the different police districts … it’s easy to spot the local power brokers. When you go to one district headquarters and they have clean uniforms, running trucks, no fuel issues, full magazines of ammo then you go to another that has none of these things or even an indoor bathroom, you have to wonder why. They are stockpiling what they feel they’ll need to sustain independently. They are making sure their district is locked down and have what they need to survive after we pull out. They know the money is starting to dry up and are preparing accordingly.”
With strategic partnerships between many coalition nations and Afghanistan still in the draft phase, many Afghans fear what will happen after 2014. For Cujo and their advising mission, they work each day to inspire trust and develop a sense of security based on the Afghans’ abilities as professional police officers. The Cujo team stays proactive, joining the ANP on patrols led by Afghan officers.
During routine presence patrols at ANP checkpoints, Cujo stands in the rear, allowing the ANP to check for threat indicators, drugs, illegal weapons and other violations of Afghan law. This type of support provides a sense of security to the ANP. However, during the recent April 15 attacks on Kabul instillations, the training wheels were removed. The ANP and Afghan National Security Forces successfully countered insurgent attacks, neutralizing all threats while sustaining minimum casualties, with little help from coalition forces. The effectiveness of the ANP and ANSF during the attacks showed the Afghan community that they are well protected and security can be assured through their own means.
“We always let them take the lead during our joint patrols to show the community that they are more than capable of leading the mission,” said Shively. “They know how to back each other up and win a fight – no question there. If we can ensure the upper leadership is being held accountable and corruption is combated, then the overall police mission will continue to progress.”
Task Force Cujo’s advising mission has expanded to include more than 30 police districts and all city gates across Kabul.
NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan is a coalition of 38 troop-contributing nations charged with assisting the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in generating a capable and sustainable Afghan National Security Force ready to take lead of their country's security by 2014. For more information about NTM-A, visit www.ntm-a.com.