Coordination center disperses life-saving information region wide
December 12, 2010
Afghanistan - 8:25 a.m.
While communicating with the provincial information center, a roaming Afghan National Police (ANP) unit rolls over a hidden pressure plate with their vehicle tire. The weight triggers the detonator, causing an instant explosion.
A police officer bellows across the radio system, detailing the carnage of the situation. Somewhere, someone listens and relays that information. Security forces and medical staff are notified. Help is on the way.
The person who relayed the critical information works in the Operations Coordination Center Province-Kandahar. The OCCP-K is made up of Afghan National Security Forces liaisons and their U.S. communications counterparts.
Reports, phone calls or other general data feed into the center, and the staff assesses the information, selecting the appropriate agency for dissemination.
"We're the middlemen," said Staff Sgt. Jason Gesford, Security Forces Advisory Team 4 (SFAT), 1st Heavy Combat Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. "Information goes to the Afghans, gets translated, and then it's back to us to check the facts and make sure our forces go to the right places."
It is similar to a police dispatcher, explained Sgt. Antwone Coverdale, a member of the SFAT 4 team, based at Fort Carson, Colo. The team records, collaborates and shares the gathered information to responders region wide.
The same goes in reverse, he continued. If coalition forces receive reports that require cooperation among the ANSF - Afghan National Army, Air Force, Police and Afghan Border Police - the operations center staff work together, hand in hand, to exchange information.
Coverdale is an advisor in the coalition team assigned to the OCCP-K in downtown Kandahar City, adjacent to the governor's palace and Government Media Information Center. As advisers, the U.S. team members take a supportive role in maintaining and operating this centralized information hub.
"We have a good relationship with the Afghans here," Coverdale said, about the speed with which the ANSF liaisons receive, translate and transmit data to and from the different agencies. "It's all up to them and how hard they must work to get the job done."
Computers, monitors, wires, maps and telephones clutter the workplace of the OCCP-K. Along both sides of the office sit the Americans. In the center sit the Afghans.
"This place is the future of Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Michael Chandler, SFAT 4 commander. "[The coalition forces] are set off to the side. The Afghan communicators are in the middle. It's symbolic in its design: One day, we'll pack up our stuff. The mission will end."
"This will not," he said, pointing to the Afghan-led work area. "This is enduring."
The background din of translation and laughter ceases as a phone rings.
"We treat every report the same," Gesford said. "Depending on the time it takes for translation, we can have our responses out within five minutes."
"Let's say a report comes in," said ANA Maj. Mohammed Aslam, an acting operations officer in the OCCP-K. "It can be about anything, crime statistics to a [medical evacuation] request. We work as quickly as possible with the people on the ground, get accurate information and send it out."
Kandahar province has a population of nearly 914,000 people, with more than 300,000 living in and around Kandahar City. Having the OCCP-K co-located with Provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa ensures timely executive decisions regarding the mobilization of provincial forces, Chandler said.
The SFAT 4 arrived at the OCCP-K in late July and early August of this year amid an increase of Afghan-led clearing operations. Malajat, a village on the outskirts of Kandahar City, had been under Taliban control until Afghan and coalition forces launched a partnered effort to rid the streets of insurgents.
"When Kandahar was seemingly the center of the insurgents' agenda," Chandler continued, "the operations of the Afghan National Security Forces staff here were critical."
Even though the job of the ANSF liaisons is in an office environment and not on the front lines, no SFAT 4 member questions the dedication and loyalty of the Afghan staff.
"The purpose of my life is to serve the nation," Aslam said. "I'll do the best I can to help the people of this country."
Using accurate, timely information, first responders arrive at the scene of the roadside explosion. Still in contact with the OCCP, the responders secure the area and save lives.