Intelligence face-to-face an important first
June 19, 2013
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - In a regional first, U.S. Army intelligence officers met face-to-face with their Afghan National Security Forces counterparts at the Afghan Border Police Zone 1 compound in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, June 10.
U.S. Army Maj. Michael O'Meara, brigade intelligence/S2 officer, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, of Clarksville, Tenn., met with representatives from the ABP, Department of Intelligence and Afghan National Civil Order Police to compare notes about the nature and concentration of enemy activity within Zone 1.
Zone 1 is comprised of the provinces of Nuristan, Kunar and Nangarhar. The latter two provinces are along the increasingly volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"It's not normal for the American S2 to meet with all his counterparts from the ABP and ANCOP," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Rivera, the intelligence adviser for Security Forces Advisory and Assistance Team-ABP Zone 1, 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division, of Honolulu, Hawaii. "This is the first time we've done something like this."
Rivera was responsible for organizing the gathering and bringing O'Meara and the Afghan intelligence officers together.
The day began with introductions and light, informal conversation around a conference table filled with food and drink. Though the 90-minute discussion eventually turned to business, the initial chitchat was of vital importance.
Unlike in America where business dealings may begin over the phone or through email, successful working relationships in Afghanistan start over a cup of chai (tea) and a chat about family and friends.
Establishing that initial face-to-face contact is critical in this culture, Rivera said. Adapting the Army's way of doing things to the Afghan way was a huge step in the right direction.
Such an attempt has not been made before for a couple of reasons.
There hasn't been anyone to facilitate the relationship before, Rivera said. More importantly, however, ANSF capabilities have now developed to the point where U.S. and Afghan intelligence officers can work together on equal footing.
After the introductory gathering, O'Meara met individually with officers from each of the represented agencies to discuss that agency's particular area of expertise and to share information. The American S2 got together with the ABP and DOI intelligence officers in the morning, and then with ANCOP personnel in the afternoon.
In light of a June 8 attack in Paktika province, where two U.S. service members and one U.S. civilian were killed by someone dressed in an Afghan National Army uniform, the conversations paid special attention to thwarting future attacks coming from within the ranks.
"Right now we're focusing on you guys, to protect you guys from inside threats," said ABP Col. Muhammad Sadiq, director of intelligence, ABP Zone 1, to O'Meara with the aid of an interpreter.
O'Meara said he was very impressed with the steps Zone 1 officials have taken thus far to counter such threats.
Of particular note was the system DOI intelligence director Sayid Assadula has established to verify the identity of ANSF Zone 1 personnel. Given the lack of widespread identification techniques in Afghanistan, such as social security numbers or biometric databases, confirming that an individual is who he or she claims to be can be difficult.
Nevertheless, Assadula has created and implemented a system where identities are vouched for on multiple levels, a method which makes enemy infiltration extremely difficult, if not impossible.
"You're running a very good program preventing threats like that from happening," O'Meara told Assadula.
At the end of the morning meetings, the ABP and DOI representatives welcomed O'Meara and the other U.S. soldiers accompanying him to a lunch catered in honor of the American S2's visit. Over the meal of rice, chicken, goat, bread, soft-drinks and watermelon, the conversation turned casual again. The Afghans even began sharing jokes with the Americans, through the interpreter.
This meant the meetings were proving a success, noted Rivera.
"That's rare," Rivera said. "In Afghan culture, if they start making jokes like that in front of you, that's because you're in. So it went really, really well."