JALREZ, Afghanistan | As Afghan officials counted ballots from Thursday’s key election, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan was making his way through the Jalrez Valley on Friday, conducting an on-the-ground assessment of the troubled nation.
The journey has brought Gen. Stanley McChrystal to the site of the Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) - a pilot effort begun under his predecessor Gen. David D. McKiernan - in which Green Berets have been recruiting and training local Afghans to police their own neighborhoods since March.
“I want to understand,[“] said Gen. McChrystal, sitting cross-legged on a grassy hillside in a circle of Afghan politicians and police officers.
“I’m in a whole lot of meetings in Kabul,” he said. “The more you teach me now, the better I’ll do in those meetings.
“Why do you think the insurgency has increased” he began.
“There’s been a lack of development, a lack of good governance, and interference from other countries,” responded the district subgovernor, Sayad Jawad Bahunar, through an interpreter. “But there’s nothing that [can’t] be solved if we work with each other,” he continued.
“Before [AP3,] 80 percent of this valley was insecure. Now we are secure,” the subgovernor added.
Almost 250 members of the AP3 unit here were employed to guard 125 polling stations in Thursday’s presidential election throughout Wardak province, located west of Kabul.
“People want to implement the security in their own village. It’s self-defense,” explained Abdul Khalil, acting Afghan National Police (ANP) chief in Jalrez.
Unlike the ANP, which fills its ranks through a centralized system that deploys officers without regard to where they come from, AP3 is similar to a system of local beat cops.
Guards are recruited through the local tribal council, or shura, and deployed in their own villages in an effort to create a higher degree of respect and accountability. The AP3 guards have no powers of arrest and serve as a supplemental force to the ANP.
“Yesterday, my police officers responded to a rocket attack at a polling site,” said Chief Khalil. “[The AP3] helped neutralize roadside bombs and provide security [at other polling sites.]”
So far, AP3 has expanded to four districts in this province, largely made up of an ethnic mix. It faces steeper challenges, however, in areas where the Pashtuns - the originating ethnicity of the Taliban - dominate.
Gen. McChrystal made it clear that one of the main issues that he wants to address is increasing the Afghans’ ability to secure themselves.
“We’re working to grow the Afghan National Security Forces more quickly,” he said, asking the AP3 commander, Sayad Ali Abbas, what he would need to help recruit more AP3 guards.
“We get one meal a day but we are a 24-hour on-call force. If we could improve our food [situation], that would help,” answered Mr. Abbas.
“That’s what I hear everywhere,” nodded Gen. McChrystal.
The general, who was tapped by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in May to take over command in Afghanistan, has been working on a set of recommendations on the strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.
He spent his first nine days doing inquiry tours and, since then, has taken two-day trips each week. In recent weeks, members of his assessment team have spoken publicly about the need for more troops to both secure the country and to enhance the Afghan Security Forces, but Gen. McChrystal has remained mum.
That was no different on this trip - in which Gen. McChrystal gave no direct interviews, choosing instead to rely on spokesman Gen. Greg Smith. “The other Afghan leaders [are] watching Wardak very closely to see how it [AP3] works out,” he said.
“What you’re looking at is an early assessment of whether programs like this - community based security - does in fact work.”
But Gen. Smith stopped short of calling for more troops. “There’s no doubt we need more ANA [Afghan National Army] and ANP. That does require a large commitment by the national community both in dollars and people to make that happen,” he said.