Afghan Border Police take the lead to secure northern crossing
Bracing against a strong, bitter cold wind, Afghan Border Police (ABP) in their distinctive tan and white camouflage jackets stand along the Friendship Bridge on the Daryu River that separates Afghanistan from Uzbekistan in the north.
“We get a lot of people through here,” says a young policeman. When asked about US training he says: “They helped us a lot. We are grateful for them.”
The troops he is talking about are primarily the US Army's 170th Brigade, which has been deployed in the north and tasked with training the border police with everything from basic policing techniques - like putting on handcuffs - to the less tangible and more complex task of becoming leaders - both among the police ranks as well as within the community.
Col. Matlock, who heads up the brigade, says that the work his troops have accomplished, which has involved heavy partnering with the Afghans at every level, isn't the most dramatic or appealing mission in Afghanistan, but it is essential.
“It's not the stuff that is going to make the highlight reel, absolutely, it is all the practice and preparation and all that fundamental drillwork...for the organisation to become an effective organisation.”
The responsibility of the ABP should not be underestimated. They are the first line of defence along the border in general and especially at the Friendship Bridge crossing. Police deployed here are particularly proud of their success in deterring attempts to smuggle drugs across the border. “Drugs traffickers don’t dare to try and bring contraband across because our equipment and methods are so good,” says Captain Zahur of the ABP
The US forces are only around as a back-up force. Huge quantities of people and goods cross this border every day, which is the only railroad line into the country. Lt.Col. Zetterstrom of the 170th, says that the ABP are “at the tip of the spear”.
However, the 170th, which has received acclaim for its effective partnering and training, is leaving. After months spent establishing rapport with the Afghans, the US Army is going back to their home base in Germany and being replaced by a smaller force from the US National Guard's 37th Brigade.
The ISAF forces have made provision for this downsize by bringing in a security assistance force that has been more specifically trained for this work: some of the new members have been preparing for years in the US, learning from field reports from the 170th in the field. One such man is Lt.Col. Pike, who after spending years as a trainer for US troops deploying here, decided to deploy himself. He says that his team, unlike the 170th, is “solely” committed to the training, not “dual-hatted” as the 170th Brigade, which shared training duties with other tasks.
Preparing for Afghan lead
The real test of all this training and advising will come in the next couple of years when ISAF forces begin to provide significantly less back-up.
Col. Matlock believes the Afghan police force can “continue improving” on its own, in the future indicating that it is an effective organisation with good leadership. He stands by the work he and his troops have begun. According to Col. Matlock, the capability of the ANSF forces in general - the police and the military - is now “starting to hit its peak”.