Posts tagged ‘NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan’
And Know Your Friend
Recent attacks on coalition forces by rogue Afghan soldiers – or terrorists disguised as soldiers – has not destroyed the trust between NATO trainers and the Afghan troops they’re training, insists the U.S. Army general in charge of the program.
“We remain confident in our Afghan partners,” says Major Gen. Gary Patton, noting the motto of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) is “shoulder to shoulder.”
Even after an Afghan sergeant turned on his trainers and fellow Afghan soldiers at a training range near Mazar-e Sharif last July, “we resumed training the very next day as a sign of solidarity and because we retain confidence in our Afghan partners.”
Patton, who is winding down an 18-month assignment as the Army’s deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, spoke with defense bloggers in a teleconference from Kabul Tuesday (April 19).
Despite Patton’s assurances that coalition and Afghan commanders were taking steps to vet Afghan recruits to weed out potential attackers, news reports from Afghanistan in recent years have indicated coalition troops are wary of the recruits they’re training and even of trained Afghan soldiers they jointly patrol with.
The murder of five NATO soldiers Saturday (April 16) at a forward operating base in Laghman Province by a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan Army uniform is just the latest in a series of attacks. on coalition forces. Since January, 13 International Security Assistance Force soldiers have been killed by infiltrators in disguise or Afghan soldiers going rogue for whatever reason, according to Stars and Stripes. There have been 38 killings under similar circumstance since 2009, the newspaper reported.
Stars and Stripes and other news outlets report there is disagreement among officials whether the attacks are primarily by infiltrators — as the Taliban claims — or simply due to cultural and communications clashes between Afghans and their trainers.
4GWAR asked Patton during the bloggers roundtable if officials had a clear idea of whether the attackers were actual Afghan soldiers or impersonators in uniforms which are said to be easily obtained in Afghan shops.
“I think what you see is really a combination,” the general replied. He added that he has discussed the problem several times with the chief of the Afghan Army’s general staff, as well as the defense minister. “They take it very seriously,” Patton says.
The defense minister has issued a directive declaring it is the duty of every Afghan soldier to be a sensor, to watch for comrades that start acting differently or out of character, say, after a trip to their home village. They are also being directed to keep watch on people in uniform they don’t know who don’t look right: wearing the wrong unit patch on their uniform or the wrong insignia for their rank or showing an identification card that doesn’t look right.
Patton said that the Afghans have developed an eight-step vetting process of new recruits that includes a letter from the elders in their home village verifying their identity and character. New recruits are also undergo medical screening and drug testing. Afghan officials have begun collecting biometric data such as retinal scans to keep in an identification database.
He added that 220 Afghan soldiers have been trained in in counterintelligence methods to uncover Taliban infiltrators or disgruntled soldiers who might snap and fire on their comrades or coalition trainers. NTM-A plans to boost that number to more than 400 watchers by the end of the year.
Teaching Afghan Police to Protect and Serve – the People
The Afghan National Police – infamous for their corruption – are, unfortunately, for most Afghans “the most visible face” of their government, says Army Capt. A Heather Coyne.
“Most people’s only interaction with police here is getting shaken down at a checkpoint,” Coyne told a recent (July 21) defense bloggers’ roundtable where she discussed her role in trying to improve the relationship between Afghans and their police.
Coyne is the liaison between the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) and non governmental organizations (NGOs) – both international and locally-based ones such as human rights organizations, business and professional groups and student organizations.
A key to defeating the Taliban insurgency, ending the violence and starting Afghanistan on the road to recovery from decades of war and Soviet occupation is to get the people to trust their government agencies – particularly the police.
The Afghan National Police “just don’t have a mindset of protect and serve,” Coyne said in a conference call from Kabul, the Afghan capital. So she and colleagues at U.S. AID (the Agency for International Development), the U.S. embassy in Kabul, international NGOs and the U.N. Mission are trying to remove communications and trust barriers between police and the people.
The program, which began just this year, has started small in places like Helmand Province and Kabul. Local groups have met with police, urging them to slow down when they drive past schools and develop procedures for dealing with women crime victims, including an acceptable entrance and interview area at police stations for them – a key hurdle in a society where segregation of the sexes is usually strictly enforced.
There are signs attitudes may be shifting, Coyne says. One NGO has been training police in Kabul how to respond to domestic violence, and if an officer it’s trained does something good in their district, the NGO sends them a certificate of appreciation. But the surprising thing is that the police frame the certificates and hang them up in the police station. “It’s a sign they don’t want to be hated by their communities. They want to do the right thing,” she says.
“A lot of people may be wondering why we’re talking about school outreach and community consultation … in the middle of a war,” says Coyne, an Army reservist who, in civilian life, works at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a congressionally-funded organization to promote peaceful international conflict resolution.
But instead of waiting until security improves around Afghanistan, she believes “that these are exactly the things that will help improve security. ” Adding: “When people trust their police, they’ll be more willing to share intel [intelligence] about the bad guys, and when people feel that their security forces and the government are there to protect and serve, not to extort and abuse, they’ll be less likely to turn to the insurgency in the first place.”
One solution is to hire and train more women police officers. There are about 1,000 now and plans call for increasing that number to 5,000. In addition to dealing with domestic violence and other crimes involving women, female police officers will be needed as security at polling places. “Because if you have women coming to vote, they have to be patted down and you’re certainly not going to have a male policeman do that,” Coyne says.
She notes the general in charge of women’s affairs and human rights at Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry is holding a meeting next week “with all the women’s NGOs to try and brainstorm how could we help make this relationship work.”
To listen to the bloggers roundtable with Capt. Coyne or read the transcript, click here .