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American Forces Press Service

U.S. Military Mentors Work With Afghan Police

By Petty Officer 1st Class David Votroubek, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

MAIMANEH, Afghanistan, Nov. 29, 2007 – Road maps of Faryab province mark roads as “drivable,” “possibly drivable” and “maybe drivable,” but a police mentoring team there often drives where there are no roads at all. These mentors from Task Force Phoenix drive them all, even at night.

The province has two six-man police mentoring teams, led by Army Maj. David Goodman. One team works at the provincial level, while the other mentors Faryab’s district police, who are responsible for general law enforcement, public safety and internal security. Both teams work from Forward Operating Base Maimaneh.

The district team, whose call sign is “PMT 21,” is led by Army Capt. Stewart Gast. His team travels to every district in Faryab to find out who the police are and where they are. The team conducted a census of police in every district in preparation for the “focused district development” initiative, which is how the Afghan Interior Ministry will reform the police and improve the rule of law.

It was a typical day for PMT 21 when they checked in with Afghan National Police officers at the district headquarters in Qaysar. Gast and his team discovered that the chief of police was assisting the Afghan National Army by escorting detainees who had been arrested during a security operation the day before.

During Operation Shaheen Sahara (Desert Eagle), the police in Faryab helped the Afghan soldiers by securing the roads and preventing insurgents from escaping to the north. To do this, they deployed officers from as far away as Mazar-e Sharif, which is more than a 10-hour drive away. Some of those were deployed for more than 45 days, which is unique for local policemen and presented logistics challenges they don’t normally face at home.

Further along on their mission, the team stopped at a few observation posts outside the village of Karez. Gast asked the officer in charge of the post how they were doing and if they had enough supplies. “We need more firewood,” the officer replied.

Gast promised to look into it. For now, the team tends to focus more on logistics issues than on actual police training. Later on, coalition officials gradually will take all officers from their districts and train them as complete units.

While Gast spoke to local national police leaders, Army Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Gutierrez checked the unit’s defensive positions overlooking the Ring Road. After walking through the trenches encircling the hilltop, he crawled into the bunker they had constructed.

He smiled as he looked up at the solid roof beams. “You did a good job,” he told one officer.

At the next outpost, officers showed Gutierrez an improvised explosive device they had found nearby and disabled themselves. Because of its location, it was probably meant for them. While the two mortar rounds might not necessarily have caused much damage to the U.S. team’s armored vehicles, they could have posed a serious threat to the Afghan police’s light trucks. Yet, the police did not seem at all intimidated.

On the team’s way back from visiting village elders and police outposts a few days later, they got a radio call to help the Afghan police and coalition forces in a running gunfight with insurgents. The team suffered no casualties and kept exchanging fire even as they left. The fight shows that mentoring Afghan police is definitely “hands on,” but sharing risks with the police is part of their job.

The Afghan police impressed team member Sgt. Bill Westberg during the firefight. The Charleston, S.C., special weapons and tactics deputy has 21 years of law enforcement experience and is careful about whom he clears buildings with, but said the Afghan National Police officer who helped him was “phenomenal.”

The rest of the team might not have police experience, but they bring other skills to the police mentoring team. Gunners Spc. John Caddell and Cpl. Thomas Palis provide security for the team and may spend 10 hours or more a day in the turret when the team goes out. Army Capt. Gerald Keller formerly served as a combat engineer in Iraq and now helps mentor the police.

Although they return from some missions well after dark, the job doesn’t end when they park their Humvees. Guns need to be cleaned, gear needs to be unloaded, and the vehicles need to be serviced. Dinner and showers can wait. Lt. Col. Robert Williams, the commanding officer of FOB Maimaneh, watched as PMT 21 got ready for their next mission.

“They do it right,” he said. “They take care of their ‘horses’ first.”

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David Votroubek is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan.)

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