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The EU’s Police Mission in Afghanistan

The European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) aims to contribute to the establishment of sustainable and effective civilian policing arrangements under Afghan ownership and in accordance with international standards.

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One of the British contingent seconded by the Stabilisation Unit to EUPOL, Chief Inspector Martin Cunningham, blogs below about his experiences during the holy month of Ramazan.

I have completed 5 months in Afghanistan now, and the turnover of staff is such that I am fast becoming one of the longer serving seconded members of EUPOL.

The turnover a challenge, because as people get to know what they are supposed to do, and as they deepen their network, the key people can move on. The benefit is that we constantly gain new experiences, skills and enriched opinions. EUPOL is an excellent place to work and the people, both experienced and new, have a wealth of knowledge. I am a trainer here, but every day is a school day for me.

The support and shared experience is one of the best things about being here. Whilst it is a challenging environment and the restrictions on movement and personal life can compound this, these difficulties only strengthen the bonds we have with our colleagues. But we know the challenges we face are not nearly as difficult as those faced by the military.

And hopefully, by doing well and helping to improve the longer term capability of the Afghan National Police, we can support in the process of security transition to Afghan lead - to bring our troops home and to improve the opportunities for the Afghan people.

This August is the time of Ramadan here so all the local nationals are fasting during the day. Not so much as a drop of water is allowed to pass their lips and only a doctor can give them permission to eat or drink, and this only on medical grounds. The temperature is hot all day long, which is a real test of their will. So, while the Afghans still work during the day, we aren’t able to gain the best out of them in lessons. So there isn’t training this month. This is a great opportunity to write course material and improve some of the courses we offer them.

One of the ways we deal with the restrictions we live under is to use the gym in the evening. I am in a bit of pain this morning as I have taken up squash. Indeed, I learnt an important lesson the other night: using your head and shoulder as a brake against the wall, when running full pelt, really hurts…

Another way of feeling a sense of normality is the contact we have with loved ones back home. We are grateful for the use of the internet and British forces mail, without which contact would be really difficult.
Our thoughts and concerns, and those of the other EU and Afghan police officers we work with, have lately been with our colleagues who are on the front line back in the UK, who have dealt with the disorder and criminality of the riots there. There is a touch of irony to this, given that we are in Afghanistan and loved ones back home usually ask after our wellbeing. We have been asked on a daily basis–including by Afghans–how things are going, what news we have and if the friends and colleagues known to us are okay.

Policing is a family and working with the police of other nations is evidence of this. There is a bond, no matter how different the national culture or the policing model. I’ve noticed here that police officers are of a similar breed the world over. We all thank and salute men and women who are actually in the arena, whose faces are marred by dust and sweat, no matter where they serve or what specific issues and challenges they must resolve. So, whether dealing with looting and rioting in the suburbs of London, or stopping crime in the other European countries which are represented in EUPOL, or quelling disorder, criminality and even terrorism here in Afghanistan, as those we are training must do, we police are united by the same spirit.

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Published 22 August 2011