Vermonters Mentor Afghan Police

09/21/10 7:34AM By Steve Zind
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Report From Afghanistan

VPR/Steve Zind
A group of Kabul police

(Host)  And now, "Report From Afghanistan," our series about the yearlong deployment of the Vermont National Guard.

An important part of the U.S. plan to withdraw forces from Afghanistan is a more dependable and better trained Afghan National Police, or ANP. 

Many say the ANP is riddled with corruption and plagued by inadequate training, low pay and, in some places, a high rate of attrition. 

This year, international forces recommitted themselves to building a well-run Afghan police force - and Vermonters are part of that effort.

As part of our series from Afghanistan, VPR's Steve Zind reports on how Vermonters are mentoring Afghan police.

(Sound inside the humvee training)

(Zind)  Vermont Guard Sergeant Joshua Smith of Essex is mentor for the Afghan National police.  Today he's on his way to visit a police station in the city of Kabul.

(Smith)  "So this is the zone headquarters right here."

(Zind)  Smith and the other soldiers in the convoy dismount and greet the headquarters commander.

(Smith) (Greetings in Dari)  "This is our Company One Commander, Sadiq."

(Zind) The commander explains that in Kabul police make the equivalent of $230 a month.  That, he says, isn't a living wage. 

(Zind) "Why do people want to become policemen, then?"

(Sadiq in Dari)

(translator) "He says Afghanistan has been 30 years in war crisis.  That's why the soldiers, most of them, they are uneducated. There's no way for them to get money from somewhere else, that's why they're coming and joining with the police."

(Zind)  The translator for the Vermonters is a man named Naz.  He's a veteran of Afghanistan's Army.  In his view the Afghan police have a long way to go.

(Naz)  "I hope they are getting better in the future.  But right now, U.S. and international community are trying to train them, but as long as the Afghan government would not root out the corruption, we could not make the police."

(Zind)  Corruption is acknowledged by everyone as huge but, largely unseen problem.  It lurks in the background in every discussion of efforts to help Afghanistan.  

Now it's time for a short training session with a small group of Afghan police.  One of the trainers is Specialist Adam Marszalkowski of Panton.  The lesson is in ‘muzzle awareness', basically how to safely handle a gun.

(Marszalkowski) "When you guys are walking around in the city, you're not in an elevated posture.  You're working with the local people, so have your rifle down like that, make sure the barrel, the muzzle is always pointed toward the ground, that way if it does go off you won't hurt anybody."

(Zind)  As Marszalkowki instructs them, the policemen move tentatively.  Sadiq, the company commander, finally he loses patience.

(Sadiq speaks)

(Zind)  "Ramazan is over, " he tells them, "Be smart; you look like you're asleep!"

Standing on the sidelines is Sgt. Michael Bougor of Middlebury.  He's just here to observe.  His job is training Afghan National Army soldiers.  Some of the police he's watching have been in the force for more than a year.  But Bougor isn't surprised that they're still learning basics.

(Bougor) "You have to start at that crawl, walk and run phase and once you get through that part, they seem to pick it up."

(Zind) Even though the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 9 years, the effort to train the police is still in its infancy.  In fact, the Vermonters say these police in Kabul are better trained than elsewhere. 

Back at the base Lieutenant Richard Volp of Fairfax explains that the Vermonters are only the third rotation of soldiers to work with the police here.  Volp is a Burlington police officer.

(Volp) "Progress is slower than you would like in some aspects. We're fighting a lot of cultural differences, a lot of structural differences."

(Zind)  At the moment Afghan police are mainly a security force.  

Their Vermont Guard mentors hope that better training and more professional procedures will eventually allow the police to respond to the daily crimes that plague any city - and build the public's confidence in what they do. 

For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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