L.A. police teach Marines how to train Afghan police

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Marines can gather intelligence by picking up the notebooks, receipts and other papers left behind in raids that could provide insight into the opium business the Taliban uses to buy their weapons, Afghan expert Gretchen Peters said.

She told Marines before the Los Angeles patrols that they should follow the lead of some Afghans who have gone from using the term “mujahadeen” or “holy warrior” to identify the Taliban to calling them gangsters.

That, she said, shows how fed up the villagers are with being extorted by them, and calling them gangsters will win them over.

“Think of the Taliban as the Sopranos in turbans,” she said. “I think essentially they’re criminals.”

Ms. Peters, who has written extensively about the Taliban as a criminal network, has been talking to troops across the country before they deploy to Helmand Province, a top opium-producing region.

Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient of heroin, and is also the leading global supplier of hashish. Last year, opium seizures soared 924 percent because of better cooperation between Afghan and international forces.

In the end, the police training mission is what will win the war, said Marine 2nd Lt. Jared Siebenaler, 24, of Hastings, Minn., who spent the past six months training police in Afghanistan. But he acknowledged their police mission faces enormous challenges.

Lt. Siebenaler said many recruits tested positive for drugs, arriving to work high on hashish if they came at all. Supervisors were believed to be skimming money off their officers’ measly salaries. One force had men from two tribes who could barely stand each other.

And then there’s the language barrier between Marines and the Afghan police.

But like most police work, getting past issues of trust and cultural difference begins with a brief encounter on a street.

As Sgt. Clair and Lt. Abbott cruised past a row of dilapidated homes, the police sergeant told him to notice how a person’s walk and dress changes from street to street, and whether children are playing or hurrying by.

Crime here increases with summer’s heat, he said, encouraging Lt. Abbott to identify the violence-trigger in Afghanistan, such as at the end of the poppy harvest.

“What’s happenin’, man?” Sgt. Clair said, waving his hand out his window to a man who looked away in disgust.

“If they are on the fence about police and they say ‘hi’ back, then at least we’ve dealt with that issue, and if they don’t, then at least I know who I’m dealing with around here,” he told Lt. Abbott.

Lt. Abbott, following Sgt. Clair’s example, waved to a woman in the street. She waved back.

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