Afghan customs take the lead, make Afghanistan stronger
February 6, 2012
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Feb. 6, 2012) -- Afghan National Security Forces, working aside American soldiers and U.S. and Afghan civilians, conducted customs inspections on vehicles and paperwork outside Kandahar district's Bagh-e-Pol Jan. 30.
The Afghan-led effort comprised of the Afghan Uniform Police, Afghan Customs Police, Afghan Border Police and the Afghan Customs Directorate.
"This was a herculean effort," said Lt. Col Chris C. Mitchiner, commander 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, deployed here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from Fort Hood, Texas.
This was the first of four operations where so many different elements of the Afghan Security Forces all worked together, Mitchiner added.
"It was awesome to witness their integration with each other," said Mitchiner. "When they executed, it was obvious that they knew what they were doing and that they had a vested interest."
According to Mitchiner, the 163's operations officer, Maj. Lisa Winegar, also played an important role in bringing all these different pieces together. She, too, was quick to point out the sharp contrast between this mission and earlier customs efforts with the Afghans.
"This time the Afghans selected the location and the time frame. They took a very active role in coordinating and planning it. They've taken a much more active role and we are really just there to enable them," Winegar said.
Both Mitchiner and Winegar noted that such missions not only make Afghan roads safer but help provide stability for the Afghan government by generating funds.
"This time the customs officials were actually identifying revenues that had not been paid based off of incorrect customs documents," said Winegar. "Taxes were levied there on site."
Winegar added that her Afghan counterpart said this was deemed a huge success by the Afghans because it may force insurgents and smugglers to reconsider their methods.
"They see that checkpoints can go up at any time. They have recouped funds that would have been lost had we not done the operation," said Winegar.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lawson, platoon sergeant for the personal security detachment of the 163rd, said the mission had even larger, overarching goals.
"We want to empower them so that when it is time for us to leave we can see it cross over from us to them," he said.
Lawson said that he has seen progress each time he has been involved in one of these check points. He noted that there were even more moving parts this time but that communications were great and the Afghans and their counterparts accomplished what they set out to do.
"This time, the Afghans were on top of their game," said Lawson.
On his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, Mitchiner said he believes the development of the Afghan central government plays an important role in making missions like these possible.
"There is accountability at the provincial and ministerial level, and there is accountability within the government as a whole," he said, adding that as more Afghans become involved with the process, those responsible will be more aggressive and comfortable in asserting their customs duties and responsibilities because know they have their Afghan brothers are backing them up.
Winegar agreed with her commander regarding the positive impact of such operations.
"This operation gives our Afghan counterparts the opportunity to see what they are capable of. The previous operations were almost like rehearsals leading up to this," she said.
Based on the mission's results, the belief seems to be that it will not be the last time so many moving parts come together to make Afghanistan a safer, more stable place.
"Because the Afghans viewed the mission as such a success, they will be eager to work with one another again," said Mitchiner, adding that that Afghans are securing themselves and generating revenue for the government of Afghanistan by working together.
"We couldn't have asked for anything better. It is a very good sign of things to come," Mitchiner said. "We've got the right people now that are invested in the process. It is promising based on what I saw with this operation, without a doubt. "