Police Training Gains in Wardak province, Afghanistan

20 Aug 2013

Wardak Province, AFGHANISTAN – "To serve and protect.”
 
It’s a common expression police officers use to describe the foundation their profession is built upon. U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Sonny Hurtado has built a career around this expression, as a 21-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Police Department now serving as the commander responsible for NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan’s police mentorship efforts.  

"I became a police officer for many reasons,” Hurtado said. "You have a direct impact on people on a daily basis. You’re in a position to help people. It’s serving a higher purpose than just yourself.”

His deployment provides bountiful opportunities to interact with Afghan policemen; both in the field and in training. One of his favorite questions to ask them is "Why do you serve?”

"Many of them join for the same reasons I did. They have a strong desire to serve their community, to protect their family. They believe in a national government. They want to be a part of that. They believe that they can make a difference,” he said. 

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Sonny Hurtado, Commander, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, Deputy Command-Police, addresses a crowd of Afghan National Security Forces trainees during an August visit to the National Police Training Center in Wardak Province, - Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alexander Farver.
During a recent visit to the Afghan-controlled National Police Training Center in Wardak Province, he had a chance to share policing fundamentals while addressing hundreds of next generation of Afghan law officers.
 
"The community expects a lot from them,” Hurtado said. "They expect them to be honest. They expect them to protect and to be that first line of security in their communities. It’s a huge responsibility. And I just wanted to stress to them that taking care of each other, their families and community is very important.”
 
The Wardak training center can train up to 3,000 police at a time, and is one of eight facilities across the country that in recent years has transitioned to full Afghan ownership and operational control. Hurtado said the training centers are strong evidence of Afghan National Security Forces growth.
 
From right to left, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Sonny Hurtado, Commander, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, Deputy Command-Police, Maj. Gen. Mashooq Sailab, Commander, Afghan National Police Training General Command, and Col. Jalila-udding Ragbag, Commander of the National Police Training Center 
-Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alexander Farver.
"They’re making huge strides,” Hurtado said. "When I was (in Wardak) four years ago, most of the training was done by contractors or coalition, and they’re now doing it themselves. That was encouraging to me, to come back after four years and see they’re conducting that training themselves and they’re getting better at it.”
 
One of the biggest obstacles remaining is a 70 percent illiteracy rate in the ranks.
 
"It is hard to professionalize a police force that isn't literate,” Hurtado said. "You have to write reports. You write tickets. You do interviews and look at documents. That to me is the key challenge right now. That is something that Afghan Interior Minister Mujtaba Patang is focused on. In his 10-year vision, he places a lot of importance on literacy.”
 
Hurtado supports lengthening initial training for recruits, which now stands at eight weeks, to match the six to nine months of training police officers receive in many other nations. Doing so would allow them to focus on more traditional skills inherent to a quality police force. While they have shown marked improvement in capability, Hurtado was quick to point out that a policeman’s training is never complete.
 
"They’re still emerging from fighting a counterinsurgency and being used as predominantly light infantry. We’re trying to refocus their mission to be policemen in the traditional sense,” Hurtado said. "They need to get all the officers that are out there trained so they know what they’re doing, and they can do the job that they've been tasked to do – and that’s to be the first line of defense security force in the communities,” Hurtado said.
 
Hurtado said leadership visits to Afghan facilities like the Wardak training center are important, as they serve to reaffirm the coalition’s enduring commitment to Afghan security and support.
 
"We’re still here, and even though we turn over a training center to them, we haven’t forgotten about them,” Hurtado said. "2014 is a deadline for most of the coalition leaving, but there will still be a presence. The Afghan National Security Forces are in the lead for security. Every police officer that we can graduate from these training centers will add to the security in their local villages and the cities around Afghanistan.”
 
Story by: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alex Farver
NTM-A/CSTC-A Public Affairs

 

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