Battleland

Afghan Police Kill a U.S. Special Operations Captain “To Make a Statement”

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Army photo / Sgt. Ken Scar

U.S. Army soldiers and their Afghan army partners set up a traffic checkpoint in March in Paktika province, where Captain Greg Escobar found training Afghan troops to be a challenging task.

Army Major Greg Escobar served as an operations officer in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, training Afghan police in Kunar province for the first half of his deployment, and Afghan troops in Paktika province for the second half.

He is a glass-half-empty kind of guy, as he makes clear in this July interview recently posted by the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Yet he believes his final mission – training Afghan troops to defend their border with Pakistan and keep terrorists out — remains “doable.” Excerpts:

In my opinion, pre-deployment training was a bit lacking. The things we focused on were language training and cultural awareness training. Although very important, the language that we were trained on was not the language for the area that we were deploying into, so it was a waste of time…

We were trained in Dari, which is in my opinion what the United States is pushing on the country as a national language, which is why we were taught it, versus what the people along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are speaking, which is multiple languages, primarily Pashtu…

Cultural training, a lot of the cultural trainers, although they had a background from Afghanistan, it had been some years since they had been there. The female cultural awareness trainer left Afghanistan when she was three or four years old and spent the remainder of time in California. The stories from a child in Afghanistan are probably very different from the experience as an adult…My assumption is that she does not remember what happened while she was in Afghanistan, and was probably telling second or third-hand experiences from relatives…

Cultural training, and I don’t know that you can do any more than get a good interpreter or translator, and that’s all the cultural training you need. It’s more interpersonal skills and communication skills that make that effective. Regardless of what you do or what you say, it’s going to go through an intermediary, and that intermediary is the one that defines if you’re culturally acceptable or not acceptable. We waste a lot of time on cultural training, when the things that actually come out of our mouths are not coming out of our mouths, they’re coming out of the translators and interpreters…

One of the biggest barriers we had whenever we started implemented training was that we had to train hands-on. You couldn’t necessarily give them manuals or books because of the low literacy rates. To distribute, give homework, preparation for class, and then start to teach them hands-on, practical exercises was extremely difficult because they couldn’t do any prep work prior to classes…

The first thing that needed to be addressed that we felt we could really control immediately was the equipping of the force. It was pulling, through U.S. channels, vehicles, weapons, body armor, helmets, those types of things. Those are the things we felt we could affect. The slower thing that was just a slow, painstaking process is teaching people how to read and getting literacy instructors down there. That’s just a slow, arduous process and by the time you get them to a reading level, it’s time for you to leave and pass on to the next guy, who maybe doesn’t think it’s as important…

Yes, [outfitting Afghan security forces] had to be done through the Afghan supply system, but in order for it to work successfully, we had to parallel the systems. Any time that they’d send in forms or requests, we sent it through U.S. channels and ask, “Hey, did you send your forms?” and it would be a yes or a no. Many times the process for sending forms was, the form has been completed, “Now we’re going to hand it to a taxicab driver who’s going to drive it down to the headquarters in Kabul.”

The amount of times that forms would get to where they needed to go and to the right person was slim to none. It turned into, “Alright, I have a copy of the form you sent, I’m now scanning it and emailing it to my counterpart who is mentoring your boss,” so that weeks later if that form doesn’t show up, that form is being handed over to keep the process jumpstarted. It was really the only way I found effective, unfortunately…

[I'm almost afraid to ask this question, but how much progress were you able to make in even a small area before you got moved to your next assignment?]

None. You spend more time figuring out what you don’t know…You’re only there a year, then you come back and you hope that the next time you go there it’s a different mission. Or else you beat your head against the wall because it’s the same problem over and over. I’m trying to think of the things we were successful at…

Initially, we started giving classes and they were not very receptive. Some of it had to do with age disparities. There were 40 and 50-year-old men unwilling to accept instruction from late-20s and early-30s Soldiers that didn’t have police experience. That was a barrier. Then we had to translate it to, “Clearly classes aren’t working, we’re not going to have classes anymore. We’re going to now do some seminars.” They were then a little more receptive when we did seminars and brought in the police professionals. The things they were receptive to were map-reading classes and paramilitary type training…

[Was there an understanding of why this training was so important, and what it was we were trying to accomplish in the bigger picture in Afghanistan?]

From the Afghan perspective? I don’t think so…

The priorities on the Afghan-Pakistan border at the time didn’t necessarily have anything to do with improving Afghan security forces. They had to do with securing the border and interdicting terrorists coming across the border…

Overall assessment of the [Afghan army] unit, there was a huge amount of racism in the unit. There were a lot of inter-tribal issues. There were a lot of issues…

I tried to focus on logistics systems, and then I tried to work on getting the right leadership in the right positions. The battalion commander that I fell in on had just been charged with raping one of his soldiers. That was the first step, identifying who the replacement was going to be, and why that leader was still in place at that time…

He was replaced a week after I departed, so I was able to accomplish that. But then the guy who replaced him was killed by his own men in January of this year…

A lot of it had to do with probably a little too much change a little too soon. In American eyes, it was probably not quick enough [Laughs] but in Afghanistan, as quickly as they move, it was way too fast, clearly. The guy we put in charge spoke pretty good English, had been to a couple of American schools.

[This is the one that was just killed recently?]

Yes…

It’s hard to relate to all of the hardships that the people in the area are dealing with on a daily basis. It’s extremely hard for us to really understand the things that they’re dealing with. I don’t know how to fix it. I mean, during our RIP [relief-in-place] the police unit that we were working with ended up killing a captain that we had brought down from Special Operations.

[A U.S. captain?]

Yes, U.S.

[So the police unit that you had been advising, when you RIP'd out, they killed a U.S. officer?]

Yes, during the RIP to make a statement.

[Oh, it wasn't an accidental shooting!]

Oh no, it wasn’t accidental.

[They did this on purpose to speak out against the Americans. I'm not sure there's really any way to overcome that.]

I would agree.

[This is a tough one, a tough issue. It doesn't sound as if you have a lot of optimism about our operations in Afghanistan right now.]

Not on the border, absolutely not…

Well, at some point, I could see us being successful there, but until the Afghan government can positively affect the people there, we’re wasting our time. We’re buying time for the Afghan government, and until that happens — which I think will probably be at least another 10 to 15 years before the Afghan government can even build roads and significantly help the people in the area — nothing we do is going to help…

The people in the area don’t believe they’re in Afghanistan…They speak multiple different languages…There’s no national pride…

In that area, it was Waziri. The country that they would be, if any, is Waziristan, which is not recognized by either Pakistan or Afghanistan, or anybody in the world.

[These are huge geopolitical issues that they're asking an Army major to deal with. What are you going to be able to do?]

I can’t affect that. The best I can do is make sure that Afghan units have enough ammunition, have enough fuel, have enough vehicles to patrol, if the leadership was willing to get on the side of the mission. For the most part the thing that they’re interested in is preserving their lives so that they can provide for their families, wherever they are inside the country…

We have been extremely successful along the border killing terrorists, and I think we can continue being successful doing that. I think it would take a significant amount of time to train a capable force to continue doing that mission in that area, at least on the Afghan side. I think it’s doable.

2 comments
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smedleybutlersociety
smedleybutlersociety

"We didn't make any progress, there were a lot of inter-tribal issues, the battalion commander had just been charged with raping one of his soldiers, the guy who replaced him was killed by his own men, the police unit that I had been advising killed a U.S. officer, we’re wasting our time -- I think it’s doable."

This goes beyond a can-do attitude to utter stupidity.

obbop
obbop

BRING OUR TROOPS HOME NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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