ALP: Afghanistan's Hometown Heroes
December 14, 2011
KONAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Villages across Afghanistan have many different views of safety. Some villages take the task of security into their own hands, resisting anyone who they view as a threat, while others seek help from their government.
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan oversees the Afghan Local Police program, a form of village security at its most fundamental level. The villagers, who volunteer to become local police, and are then approved by village elders, are responsible for the safety and security of the people in their hometowns.
After countless months of preparation and three weeks of training, a Dona'i village ALP class, the very first from Sarkani district, graduated during a recent ceremony.
ALP was a productive program in neighboring Khas Kunar district for months prior to its arrival in Sarkani district. The Khas Kunar district ALP had a great deal of positive feedback from what they've accomplished, and by word of mouth, news of that success drifted to Sarkani district. After many negotiations between village and district leadership and a coalition Special Operations Forces team, it was decided the district would begin the program.
Because it was a new program in the district, there were misconceptions about the way the program worked. There were positive reactions and confusion in the early stages, so a lot of education had to take place, generally through key leader engagements at the district center between the coalition SOF team, district sub-governor and elders in the villages.
"As soon as we got in and went through it, we understood what ALP is, for what purpose we are working and what our job is," said an ALP graduate, who was a former taxi driver. "The guys came all the way from America to here, which is too far away, and working over here for us to have our security, so why should we not work for our own village and our own country to secure it?"
The idea of ALP was brought to the district and offered to the villages. While some villagers were apprehensive about starting the program, the elders of Dona'i village knew ALP was a beneficial program and something they wanted.
"We offered them the idea and told them what the benefits are and then they decided whether or not they wanted to do it," said the coalition SOF team's primary ALP trainer. "We had a shura at the district center with village elders, from different villages around here, and the district governor, and Dona'i was the first to step up and say they would do it."
Once Dona'i was identified as the primary place to start an ALP force, the coalition SOF team began working with the district sub-governor and the village elders, who presented their candidates for ALP. When they presented their recommendations for candidates, the village and district leadership vouched for them as responsible and reliable men. The candidates were then assessed by Afghan officials: the district sub-governor, the National Directorate of Security chief and the Afghan National Police district chief.
"By the time we whittle down the list of candidates we actually have, they've been vetted pretty extensively," said a SOF team warrant officer. "Once they've gone through the full screening process, and we've decided on training them, we have an Afghan validation shura where all the leadership from the Afghan side will show up and discuss what will happen. It's a formal Afghan stamp of approval."
The ALP students were trained on an assortment of different topics over the course of three weeks. Students met the coalition SOF team at various places, depending on what was on the training schedule.
The first week of training was administrative: the penal code, the constitution of Afghanistan, human rights, understanding the law and how ALP should act professionally. The next week was unit movement, patrolling and tactics of being police. The remaining time was dedicated to basic rifle marksmanship, weapons safety and weapons maintenance.
"I've been impressed with how the squad leaders lead their squads," said the coalition SOF trainer. "They know all the hand and arm signals; they can do a patrol without speaking and move from a file to a wedge to a line, break contact and attack."
While ALP training ran smoothly, the preparation for it was, at times, hectic. Acquiring and arranging distribution of equipment and uniforms proved to be challenging. Most of the equipment necessary for training needed to be requested from both coalition and Afghan officials. Difficulties in acquiring equipment delayed training, but the coalition SOF team and ALP recruits worked through the growing pains of the first class.
"Not having equipment is the number one problem," said the coalition SOF trainer. "A lot of these guys are coming to training, and they're doing battle drills, unit movement and low-crawling, and they're still wearing sandals because they don't have uniforms or boots."
The weeks of training came to an end with a graduation ceremony. Before the ceremony, the students were given boots, winter jackets and slings for their rifles. They signed their ALP contracts by stamping their thumbprints on the official documents. The students pledged to "obey the laws, decrees and orders pertaining to being part of a well-disciplined police force" and "be ready to serve tirelessly to defend independence, honor and national territory" as honest members of the country of Afghanistan.
The district sub-governor, Afghan National Army commander, local shura leader and NDS ALP liaison were in attendance, assisting in speeches and the distribution of certificates to the graduates.
"You have to work honestly for the security to protect your family in Dona'i village, because the police and ANA are the backbone of the country," said the district sub-governor. "You are not alone; you always have big supporters from here, which are the coalition forces, ANP and ANA."
The effects of security were already being seen within the village, with an increase in freedom of movement for the villagers. Historically, the local mosque would host no more than 8-9 men during evening prayers, but the night before the graduation, there were approximately 50 men there praying.
"I am very happy that I am working for my own village," said the ALP graduate. "We have to do our own job. There are two things: are you going to get killed or are you going to kill the insurgents?"
The ALP is a force that falls under the responsibility of ANP. The ANP are viewed as mentors for the ALP, especially in Sarkani district as the program is just beginning and needs a host of equipment, uniforms and trainings aids.
"The big difference between the ALP and the ANP is that they're drawn strictly from that village and they're a static defensive force for that village," said the coalition SOF warrant officer. "What I'd like to see in Sarkani district is to get a number of ALP established, and then the ALP can take over the static check points the ANP man, which will free up the ANP to become a more robust force to go out to patrol and be a more mobile offensive force. The ALP is a static defensive presence that's always there in the village, almost like a sensor."
Economically, the ALP program, which is funded by the Ministry of Interior, will help the village because there will be men with steady jobs and reliable income. It will also bring peace of mind to the villagers by having a legitimate, sustainable security force wanting to protect their own village, even while the ALP know they have put their life on the line to protect the village.
"The difficulty for them is the day they volunteer to be ALP, they put their life on the line," said the coalition SOF warrant officer. "There have been instances of harassment, intimidation and night letters. We realize the risk these guys are taking just walking up to training. If some places are threatened, that's where we will make our presence felt."
The future of ALP depends heavily on everyone's involvement, from the villagers up to GIRoA, how independent and widespread the program is and making sure it's properly structured before supporting Afghan and coalition forces move on. If enough villages come together and support ALP, their security and economy can be sustained.
"ALP has given them a job, a legitimate job, and a pay check," said the coalition SOF warrant officer. "The beauty of the ALP is that you're drawing people from their home village, and they're going to protect their home village. They're literally training, working and protecting their homes. If there's one thing that makes the program work, it's that."