British-trained policemen in Afghanistan's Helmand province have extended their influence to a new area and detained five suspected poppy farmers in a joint operation with British troops.
A squad of 35 Afghan National Police (ANP) officers, based at the recently-opened ‘Checkpoint Schoolhouse’ Police Station in Lashkar Gah district, were joined on the operation by 35 soldiers from The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 SCOTS), and 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh, who are based at the adjacent Patrol Base Attal.
The police and troops entered the village of Noorzai at first light and, using the speaker system at the central mosque, called the local people together for a shura - or public meeting.
This provided an opportunity for the local police commander, Colonel Sattar, to promote solutions to problems local residents are having as a result of insurgent intimidation and activity.
He encouraged the young men of the village to join the police, and enrol at the Helmand Police Training Centre, telling them this would enable them to protect their villages from the Taliban. The locals welcomed the opportunity to talk directly to the ANP commander, freely voicing their issues and concerns.
Information gained from local people at the shura also led to five people being detained by the ANP for farming poppy. Clear direction has been issued that the farming of poppy is illegal and so the locals understood why the ANP were enforcing the law in their area.
As the operation concluded, and the police and British troops left the area, there were signs that a group of insurgents was preparing to attack. But a show of force from the police led to a rapid retreat by the suspected insurgents and the extraction from the area continued without further incident.
Captain Tom Mobbs, a Royal Marine officer attached to 5 SCOTS, said:
It was great to see the Afghan National Police acting as the face of governance and enforcing the rule of law in these remote areas.
The locals welcomed the opportunity to talk directly to the ANP commander and his officers, and were clearly relaxed about voicing their issues and concerns - a vital state of affairs if the Taliban shadow governance is to continue to be marginalised.
The fact that the Taliban were watching the patrol’s movements and didn’t engage is an excellent indicator of the ANP’s ability to move, at will, through these contested spaces.
Delta Company of 5 SCOTS and Rorke’s Drift Company of 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh are currently deployed on a six-month tour of Afghanistan. They are partnered with the Afghan National Police in Lashkar Gah district, protecting the people of the area and ensuring that they have a responsible and accountable police force.
The troops also assist the ANP in gathering information on insurgents that live in the area and conduct operations to eliminate the insurgent threat.
The ‘Checkpoint Schoolhouse’ Police Station was opened in November, replacing a previous temporary police station in an old school building. It protects Route 601, a key artery linking Lashkar Gah, Gereshk, Sangin and Kandahar, as well as settlements surrounding it.
There are currently around 116,000 fully-trained Afghan National Police in Afghanistan and the aim is to reach a target of 134,000 by the end of 2011.