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Blue Line visits EUPOL Afghanistan – Part I


September 4, 2013
By Tom Rataj

1809 words – MR rataj photos folder

Blue Line visits EUPOL Afghanistan

by Tom Rataj

The most recent chapter in Afghanistan’s long, complicated and often torturous history began when US-led coalition forces laid siege to the country October 7, 2001. Virtually all critical infrastructure was quickly converted into heaps of rubble and the Taliban’s barely five-year long grasp on power was broken.

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Since then, the arduous task of rebuilding the country and establishing a democratic system of government has been underway. Numerous setbacks have occurred as the Taliban continually tries to undermine the efforts and return to power. The coalition forces have suffered many casualties, including the 138 Canadian “killed in action” between 2002-2012.

In addition to the physical infrastructure lost during the invasion, most government services, including policing, were also destroyed. Policing under the Taliban had not been much more than an instrument of the government, functionally controlling all dissent and enforcing extremist views of what an Islamic state should be.

The German Police Project Team (GPPT) arrived in 2002 and began the task of establishing a civilian police service throughout the country. With a focus on developing and training police and prosecutors, the GPPT was augmented in 2007 by the larger, multi-country European Union (EU) led effort, which expanded the scope of training.

The European Union Policing (EUPOL) Mission in Afghanistan draws from 23 EU member states and four contributing countries – Canada, Croatia, New Zealand and Norway. With approximately 400 personnel assigned to the mission, typically including up to 45 Canadians, EUPOL annually trains and mentors 10,000 members of the 157,000 strong Afghan police.

From basic street-level policing up through several management and leadership levels, the EUPOL mission has worked painstakingly and, at times, painfully, at creating and building a civilian policing service from the ground up.

Simply transplanting the western model of civilian policing into a country such as Afghanistan is an impossible and doomed-to-failure approach. The EUPOL mission has gone to great lengths to work hand-in-hand with the Afghans by showing, teaching and mentoring them on how to update their policing traditions into a civilian policing model that will work in their country. ‘Transition, not transformation’ is the by-line.

In a country as complex as Afghanistan – with its troubled and tumultuous past, its largely rural and tribal structure and virtually no history of civilian (as opposed to military) policing – EUPOL’s task was massive.

Great progress has been made, although much more needs to be done. Unfortunately, much of the mission is scheduled to come to an end in 2014 when the coalition’s military presence ends.

EUPOL is working on establishing a new participation model set to start in 2015.

{Media tour}

Before the mission ends, the EUPOL Press and Public Information Office (PPIO) organised a police media tour of its operation, inviting police magazines from contributing countries to send a representative to Kabul.

I was fortunate enough to join magazine staff from Sweden, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands and Romania on a one-week media tour to Kabul from June 28 to July 4.

The journey proved to be an adventure in its own right, as I flew first from Toronto to Moscow (9.5 hours) with Aeroflot Russian Airlines and, after a 12 hour layover in the Sheremetyevo International Airport, continued with Aeroflot to Dubai, which took another 5.5 hours.

I met Lars Hedelin and Karl Melin from Sweden and Justine Kaasjager from the Netherlands in Dubai. We had about an hour to get to get acquainted before boarding the 2.5 hour flight to Kabul with FlyDubai.

We were met by our EUPOL PPIO host Edith Lommerse and a fleet of Mercedes Geländewagen (G-Wagon) armoured SUV’s staffed by a team of armed Close-Protection (CP) personnel that we soon learned would escort us everywhere.

We were promptly whisked-off, convoy style, to the Green Village (GV), a fortified compound across town and each assigned accommodations for the week.

The GV is a heavily fortified compound surrounded by blast-resistant walls topped with razor wire, multi-stage entrance gates and internal fortified walls and bunkers. It is operated on behalf of EUPOL by Stratex Corporation and guarded 24/7 by numerous security contractor personnel, mostly from Nepal, including members of the famous Ghurkas. As would be expected, the facility is also equipped with an extensive CCTV security system and other equipment which cannot be detailed due to security concerns and restrictions.

At the GV we met the rest of the journalist team: Olaf Knöpken from Germany, Sari Haukka-Konu from Finland and Nicusor Dulgheru from Romania. We were each outfitted with our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) – a ceramic ballistic body armour vest (about 20 lbs) and military style ballistic helmet. They would be our constant companions on every trip outside of secure compounds or facilities.

Our initial briefing covered the alarm protocols in the GV and other EUPOL facilities, familiarising us with what to do if the facility came under attack while we were there. This was apparently an ever-present and very real possibility.

Knöpken and I were assigned to a silver G-Wagon staffed by our CP team: Peter (an ex-UK military man) as driver and Rolf (a retired South African police officer) as escort. Both worked for HART Security, one of numerous private security contractor companies operating in Afghanistan. The CP teams also wear ballistic body armour and always carry pistols and assault rifles.

After the briefings we headed to the EUPOL headquarters compound across town for official introductions and an overview of operations. Deputy Head of Mission Pieter Deelman, human resources officer Sorin Hazu and Christiane Buck of the PPIO welcomed us and, despite our travel-weariness, managed to provide us with a quick overview of the EUPOL mission and the busy and interesting week in Afghanistan that lay ahead.

{Hostile environment training}

Since the security situation is so tenuous, we were required to receive security and basic first-aid training, the first order of business the next day.

We were driven to the HART Security compound, greeted by several company executives and given a short overview of the company’s operations and contracted services in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We were then given a very condensed Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) session to familiarise us with the threats and risks we would face everywhere in the country.

EUPOL police officers normally receive a 4.5 day HEAT training session, including driver training specific to the Afghan environment. We were also given an overview of the contents of the emergency medical packs located in each truck and at strategic locations in all compounds.

We learned about the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) designed to ensure our safety when being transported. Because of the substantial risks to foreigners, you stay in your armoured vehicle under all circumstances unless instructed to exit.

The Taliban or others will often stage incidents designed to entice foreigners to leave their vehicles. Once outside they become targets of shootings, suicide bombers or abduction for profit businesses run by criminal gangs or individuals. Abductees are apparently sold to the Taliban for $50,000 and then ransomed off for several hundred thousand in a purely profit-driven enterprise.

On top of all the terrorist threats and activities, much of Afghanistan is also plagued by organised criminal gangs and opportunist criminal elements that take advantage of the chaos and lack of effective policing. Rampant systemic corruption in both private enterprise and various levels of government make the cost of doing business very high.

It can be very difficult to know who to trust so all Afghan nationals entering foreign operated or occupied facilities, such as the GV and EUPOL HQ, are required to first disarm. This is to prevent Green-on-Green or Blue-on-Green attacks, where apparently trusted Afghan soldiers or police officers kill foreign soldiers and police officers.

{Police HQ visit}

After our morning training session, we headed across Kabul for a meeting and lunch with General Ayoub Salangi, chief of the Kabul City Police. We met briefly with him and some of his key staff and EUPOL mentors.

Lunch was a large and tasty spread of typical Afghani foods, including flat-breads, shish-kabob, rice and sautéed vegetables. After lunch we asked the general about his operation, the influence of EUPOL and policing in Kabul.

I asked his opinion about community based policing as opposed to more traditional policing models. He answered with a short question: “What happens to the fish if you take it out of the water? It will die… It is important for the police to be with the people and to gain their trust. They need to work in the community so the people will know them.”

Fighting against terrorists is the biggest challenge for police, Salangi said and Afghan police need more time, resources, technology and money to bring them up to the standards elsewhere in the world.

He appreciated the support, training and mentoring from EUPOL and the help rebuilding policing, which has been one of the many casualties during the last 30 years.

{Police emergency call centre}

In the afternoon, we were given a tour of the police 119 emergency call centre in Kabul by Colonel Ayni, chief of the centre. It can be reached toll free and functions in a sort of hybrid model, dealing with both emergency calls (police, fire and ambulance) and just about every other governmental service need in a manner similar to a municipal 311 call centre.

The 119 centre is essentially a one-stop access point for civilians. It handles calls about everything from terrorist activities and corrupt police and government personnel practices to human rights complaints and problems with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF – coalition) personnel.

We were told a number of success stories. In one case a roadside IED was being placed outside a school. The call-taker stayed on the line with the caller while arranging police response and when officers arrived, the IED’s placement wasn’t yet complete. The person placing it was arrested and the bombs were successfully defused, likely resulting in many lives saved.

The mostly female call-takers sit in small booths arranged around the main room and are equipped with a desktop computer and modern Internet Protocol (IP) phone that, at this point, provide only the caller’s number. The computer has an Internet and intranet connection and acts only as a resource tool. All incoming calls are digitally recorded.

The 119 centre has become quite well known, to the point where the Taliban has apparently threatened to capture and hang civilians who call it. It has also attempted to disrupt the service by running a concerted campaign to overload it with prank calls.

The centre’s more than 100 staff work three shifts and typically handle more than 400 calls each day.

{Next month}

The field trip to Kunduz, graduation day, strategic objectives, justice, an interpreter’s view, Canada Day in Kabul, a truck bomb and the police staff college.