News story

British Army Reserves advise Afghan Police

Two British Army reservists, both UK law enforcement officers in civilian life, have been helping to improve policing standards in southern Afghanistan. Report by Richard Long.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

One of the overarching benefits of Reserve units is the ability of their soldiers to bring wide-ranging skills from the civilian world to Service life.

A prime example of this attribute is being demonstrated in Helmand province, where a small team of policing specialists have been paving the way for transition of operational responsibility.

Captain Lucy Sewell from the Royal Corps of Signals, an inspector in the Warwickshire Constabulary, and Royal Military Police Sergeant Dave Reid of the Adjutant General’s Corps, who is part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, have left their day jobs behind to ensure the mentoring of Afghan police officers is bearing fruit.

The duo used expertise garnered from life on the UK beat to conduct a 30-day review of the training processes in place at the start of Op HERRICK 16 and the hard work has continued at their base in Lashkar Gah:

With our professional backgrounds we were able to come back with recommendations on how to improve policing in Afghanistan,” said Capt Sewell.

We cannot make them become a Western force but we can influence them so they adopt some Western procedures.

The review, conducted on behalf of the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group, included deployments to locations in Nahr-e Saraj, Nad ‘Ali and Lashkar Gah, where the pair interacted with tolay (company), checkpoint and station commanders.

They also spoke to those personnel responsible for delivering training to prospective police officers:

There were no messages about the pride of working in the community so we recommended ways of reinforcing that for those based at police stations and checkpoints,” the officer added.

We have given advice on how to deliver the training and we have devised an aide-memoire that can be used here and on future HERRICK tours.

We are also hoping to develop a Pashto version of the document so the Afghans can train their own people.

Sgt Reid has returned to the UK due to work commitments but was pleased to contribute to the programme, while witnessing the Afghan police in action outside the wire:

We wanted to go round the entire area of operations to get a feel for individual places,” he explained. “I was surprised by the disparity; the Upper Gereshk region is so different to Lashkar Gah.

We observed the basic training and went out to see those drills being put into practice. There are some good lessons being taught.

But a lot depends on the checkpoint commanders. The Afghan police will have a boss and he makes the decisions. If he is keen on training and receptive to teaching it works well.

They are coming on, but the biggest problem is the poor literacy levels. It is very difficult for us to implement our methods as we are used to orderly sessions with educated people.

To try and teach in a similar manner is incredibly difficult, so you have to adapt. For the Afghan National Police [ANP] this is all very new. They have never had any formal education and have never been to school.

On the other hand, a young NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] delivering lessons is used to people sitting and listening. It is a learning experience for everyone.

The two-man team was able to give positive reports on the ANP but, as the fatal shooting of three British troops last month demonstrated, such work is not without its dangers.

The soldiers also believe that further development of the country’s police is needed if they are to succeed on their own:

They know what they want to do but sometimes there is a lack of will to do it,” Capt Sewell said.

Some see the police station as their fortress and that is what they protect but others are going into the communities and reaping the rewards of building relationships with the locals.

It is about getting the cycle moving and they need to step out of the comfort zone. But you only have to look back two or three years to realise how far they have come. They are making progress.

Outside of their policing role, the tour has given the duo a chance to gain valuable operational experience and was the realisation of a long-standing ambition to deploy to theatre.

Capt Sewell has served as a reservist for 23 years and has been determined to make the most of her spell in Helmand province:

It was the right time within my police career to put myself forward and volunteer,” she said. “I was at a stage where I could get something out of it while contributing to the tour.

Out here you still have levels of discipline and you are still upholding the law but how you deal with the everyday aspects of the role is different.

I have got four months left to go and then I go back to my day job. I have really enjoyed it but my police career pays the bills and my mortgage.

Being in the Reserves gives you the best of both worlds.

Sgt Reid was limited to a shorter tour but was pleased to have the opportunity to prove himself alongside full-time personnel:

I saw it as a challenge and it is important that the Reserves support the Regular Army,” he said. “I wanted to push myself and bring something to the party by utilising my skills. I feel I have done that.

I wanted to be here for longer and I’m frustrated by that, but that’s life.

I have other commitments in the UK, particularly with the London Olympic Games, so it is understandable.

With greater utilisation of Reserve Forces key to the Army 2020 blueprint, personnel such as Capt Sewell and Sgt Reid are proving themselves as worthy contemporaries to their Regular colleagues. And with valuable civilian life skills boosting the Service’s cause, the partnership will continue to flourish.

This report by Richard Long appears in the August 2012 issue of Soldier - magazine of the British Army.

Published 17 August 2012