“Kandahar, Afghanistan— It’s hard to believe this journey started just over a year ago. Lately things have been moving ahead at 100 miles an hour. We are at a very important, if not critical part of our mentoring process in the south and every bit of energy is going into that effort. The past few weeks have allowed me to get out and about on the streets again and really see the progress as well as the challenges that we are dealing with.
I was on a road trip out to Canada’s two main areas, what we call Vital Ground: Zhari and Panjwayi. Within each of those areas are sub stations, with one new HQ built up and another one on the way. In Panjwayi we met the Provincial Chief and the General to discuss what was working and where we should focus our future efforts. The chief was very animated and looking around the new HQ we could see it was finally being used the way we had envisioned it.
At first, the ANP did not want to use the HQ as it was just outside the city limits by a kilometer. That’s a long way for Afghanistan since public transport in the districts is your local donkey or bike. We have the district centre right beside it and as luck would have it, the weekly security shura was going on, so we dropped in to hear what the locals and the district leader had to say and to watch how the chief dealt with their concerns. They are a lot like our community consultative groups back home and I was impressed with the frank manner in which the chief dealt with problems.
We continued on to Pashmul South where I had stopped one year ago in my first journey outside the wire. This was probably the biggest change I have seen and mostly due to the Police Operational Mentor Liaison Teams (POMLTs) who work there.
Supt. Joe McAllister and the Deputy Commanding Officer, Major Louis Carvello, standing in front of the Blue Mosque. This Mosque holds the shroud of the Prophet and is a very holy site here in Kandahar.
Last year, while traveling down this road there were constant ambushes and attacks within view of the police checkpoint. The ANP would hunker down and do little to respond. They rarely left their checkpoints and certainly never at night. Now they are kitted out, look sharp and have a great leader who gets them motivated every day. I asked him what difference the year had made and he said it was the training at the Regional Training Centre, the mentoring by the POMLTs and the equipment and infrastructure we had built them over the year.
The trip up to Zhari and out to future police stations revealed some work to do in this area. But the big change was that all the police were in uniform, all were accounted for, they had a schedule and plan on the wall and they patrol regularly along the main routes. Again, doesn’t sound like much, but it’s light years ahead of one year ago.
We actually have most of their winter kit out to them now whereas last year they didn’t get it until late January and only got half of what they needed. We’ve decided to boost what they are provided and have ordered 2,000 blankets, 4,000 pairs of warm socks, hats and gloves.
During the past two weeks I was on five foot patrols throughout the city, including one at night and one in the heart of the city. Last year this was unthinkable, but we’ve got the ANA and the ANP to the point where they are doing them alone or with us and in areas they have deemed to be important for security.
At night it’s a different story. Walking through the abandoned streets wearing night vision goggles and seeing damaged buildings made me think we had just arrived after a nuclear war and this is what the world now looked like. It was pretty eerie.
The one foot patrol that I really enjoyed occurred about a week ago. We left the camp by a different route and headed into a fairly busy market area. We reached a school and soon had hundreds of kids trailing us. At first they were quite shy and would stand back, but after a few words to them in Pahstun they came up and tried to engage us in conversation. We had interpreters, so it was nice to chat with these children, ask them how they liked going to school, what they hoped to be when they grew up and just have a normal conversation. Most of the kids would ask for pens and it became apparent school supplies are in short supply, as well as teachers.
As we walked along with all the kids I would say hello and shake their hands. Some of the boys would grip on and not want to let go, and even many of the young girls would shake our hands. Some of the soldiers around me started to get involved and soon it was like the Pied Piper with all these kids following us and shaking our hands.
So, after a year here I can say I’m still enjoying the challenges and I still have a ton of work to finish before I’m ready to leave. I know there is a long way to go and many challenges to overcome, but progress takes time.
Cheers from the now chilly desert.