Training Police in Afghanistan

The morning view is always spectacular as I head out to my 4.5-ton Mercedes G-wagon (armoured vehicle) for the start of another work day. The area where I stand, a fairly flat plateau at 1250 metres above sea level, is surrounded by mountain peaks that are now covered in snow.

Sgt. Sadler mentors ANP officers on course.

A piece of history lies beneath my feet; the Russian Army had staffed this base and airport during the invasion and subsequent Afghanistan War. Remnants of that period of time surround us, from derelict hulls of armoured vehicles, to the now-abandoned outpost on the crest above. Everywhere is a reminder of war, both past and present, the tragic legacy of 30 years of conflict in Afghanistan.

I arrived in Afghanistan in June 2011, as part of a larger contingent of Canadian Police Officers drawn from across the country. A serving Sergeant with the Toronto Police Service, I am now contracted to work for the RCMP over the next year. The June deployment is comprised of retired and serving police officers from stations across the country, such as the Calgary Police Service. We joined other Canadians already deployed here in the mission, augmenting the total number of officers currently deployed.

Our role is to train the Afghan National Police (ANP) in various aspects of policing their people. Some of our members work with ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force), the Canadian Embassy, or the NATO Training Mission, and the remainder work with EUPOL (the European Union Police Mission).

Child clutches his Izzy doll.

My partner Derrick Gaudet (also from the Toronto Police Service) and I are posted in Feyzabad, approximately 300 km north of Kabul. It is the northern-most base, in the northern-most province of Afghanistan. The area is actually closer to Tajikistan and China than to most other towns in Afghanistan. The terrain is not what I expected – the hills around the city are lush and green for most of the year; a fast-moving river draws water from the mountain slopes before it courses through the countryside into Feyzabad. This is the major water supply for the city of approximately 70,000 (population estimates are difficult to determine in this country).

My station is a PRT, or Provincial Reconstruction Centre, staffed by the ­German Army and a few other “internationals”, as we are called. My current position is within EUPOL, which draws from EU nations, and now Canada, for policing re­quirements. In this position, I have been working with multi-national partners, including officers from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Romania, and Germany.

The role of EUPOL at this base is to implement the City Police and Justice Program (CPJP) in this area. The team is divided into ‘Rule of Law’ and ‘Policing’ mentors and advisors. We mentor and advise provincial Chief of Police from the province of Badakshan, his ­various Chiefs of Staff, and other senior ANP members from Badakshan.

Work Environment
The focus of our current project is to implement a community policing model for this area and, hopefully, to expand it throughout the entire province. At the behest of the Ministry of Interior, the entire policing community is destined to transition from the current role of counter-insurgency efforts to a more traditional policing role as might be seen in Canada or Europe. The civil war that occurred after the Russian occupation, as well as the reign of the Taliban, destroyed any formal professional police force that had existed here before. Canada began its role in Afghanistan some 10 years ago, and has continuously participated in a determined effort to rebuild the police service.

Sgt. Derrick Gaudet (left) and members of the German Police Project Team prepare ANP officers for a foot patrol.

I work at PHQ (Police Headquarters) where the majority of Chiefs of Police have their offices. On my way into the city, I pass all manner of domiciles and buildings, from the mud adorned walls and huts of the past, to the new living spaces rising in mortar and brick. There are cars everywhere, a massive increase over the past few years, mainly old Toyotas from wherever they can get them shipped. A mix of right hand and left hand drive, the cars fight for space on the road – which is still the main route for herding goats and sheep through the city. Cattle graze at the roadside, or in the middle of the road, wandering without apparent ownership through the streets.

The city is in the midst of a building and construction boom, the result of a massive influx of cash from the international community combined with a true sense of entrepreneurship in the people.

Off the highway, the roads are ill-maintained dirt and rock thoroughfares which deteriorate into mud sloughs after any rain. As we travel towards the PHQ, legions of children run beside the vehicles, making shapes with their hands to indicate soccer balls. Prior to my arrival, a national vehicle had provided some balls to the children, and now they hope for more. When a vehicle does stop, as I have done, to hand out Izzy Dolls (a soft crocheted doll, originally made by the mother of a Canadian soldier who was killed in Croatia in 1994, and now being made for dispersal across the country) or school supplies, it is quickly swarmed by children who appear from out of nowhere. Try as we may, we cannot fill the massive need of these kids, and there is never enough to go around for all of them.

Remnants from the Russian occupation litter the countryside.

Upon arrival at the PHQ with our Language Assistants (to translate the Dari language), we attend meetings with various department heads and plan educational opportunities for the police, or assist in the acquisition of much needed office and policing supplies. Using the approved course list from EUPOL, we set up training that the ANP feel is required to assist them in their march to modernity. Since our arrival, we have instituted training in Police Command and Control; an introduction to map reading; a community policing program; and most recently, a Call Takers course for the Community Phone Line project.

As part of the adoption of community policing, we have designed a model which targets the implementation of two programs for this area. The first will be the introduction of a Community Phone Line (where locals can phone and talk to a trained police officer, to ask for assistance or provide information, or to lodge a complaint). A second program will place police officers in the schools – in a training role, but also in an attempt to increase the level of trust between the children and police.

Both of these programs are familiar back in Canada, but is a totally new concept over here. It is hoped that the ­successful implementation of these two programs will spread throughout the country. Through the EUPOL training cells in Kabul, this model has been exported to other PRTs throughout Afghanistan.

Measured Progress
Concurrent with these programs is the education of all local police officers (both in stations or traffic positions) on the benefits of community policing, and how this model can assist policing efforts as well as community concerns. Through successive courses over the next few months, we hope to reach a majority of the police officers in the area.

DND Photo: MCPl Pierre Thriault, Canadian Forces

Members of the German Police Project Team (GPPT) are stationed with us. Their training efforts are dedicated to new police recruits at the German-built Provincial Training Centre (PTC) which will soon be augmented by a second building. The PTC program transforms raw police recruits into officers with rudimentary skill sets. After this eight week period, they are ready to take on ­further challenges and courses.

We have partnered with the GPPT for several courses and programs, and look forward to their assistance in the community police training as we move forward.

To date, we have completed five “Introduction to Community Policing” courses. The students were fully engaged throughout the program, asked many questions, and remained active in all exercises. All students were successful in the program, and will soon receive a certificate for the course from the Ministry of the Interior. These certificates are very important to them, as these and other factors determine to a great degree their career progression.

An ANP officer completes an obstacle course.

At the conclusion of the program, ­Captain Sayed Abid, a Program Manager who will later be running the School Liaison Program, stood and thanked us on behalf of the entire class, indicating that the pace was appropriate and that the material was both ­relevant and informative.

As a surprise, and in honour of the first community policing class, my partner ­Derrick gave each student a small plastic Canadian flag pin. The gift was received as if we had passed out gold bars – they truly appreciate such tokens. After the class, Captain Abid said something I will always remember. Translated by my Language Assistant, he said “if you cannot appreciate the apple, you will never appreciate the orchard”… a sage comment full of wisdom and meaning, and proof of the benefit of such gifts.

I am fascinated by the Afghan people here. Victims of countless conflicts and deprivations, they survive in astonishing ways, adapting as required. When we teach them, a spark is ignited in many of them, giving us gratification in the knowledge that the product we have delivered has been understood, and perhaps absorbed. We have met with many of the local people here, and they are earnest when they greet you, like the reunion of old friends. I believe most are genuine in this regard, and they truly enjoy the engagement they get with most of the members of the international community.

With only 27 females in the entire province, having women in the class is real progress.

The Canadian Contingent, in partnership with other police officers from around the world, is making positive changes in Afghanistan. There continues to be value in our efforts to assist in rebuilding their National Police Force. I have no idea of what will happen after 2014, but the optimist in me hopes there will be strong and positive residual effects from our effort.

I am proud to be a Canadian serving in this country. Though I surely miss my family and friends during my one year deployment here, I am hopeful that my efforts here will prove fruitful, both for the Police of Afghanistan and for my own future and well-being.

Many will ask what is to be learned while on a mission here… the best lesson I can think of would be patience, as most changes in Afghanistan move at a glacial pace. This knowledge in itself, learned by a truly impatient man, will assist me in many ways when I finally return home!

This mission is yet another opportunity for Canadians to wave our flag proudly yet again, as we have done so many times, in countless locations around the world. It is also a way to demonstrate our pride in Canadian policing and allows us to share our knowledge for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan.

Steve Sadler, a Sergeant with the Toronto Police Service, is serving in Afghanistan. Contact him at:sadler.rko281@gmail.com.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Toronto Police Service, the RCMP, DND/CF, or the Government of Canada.
All non-DND photos were taken by Sgt Sadler.
© FrontLine Security 2011