Afghanistan’s new breed of security guards

July 12th, 2008 - 8:57 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
Kandahar, July 12 (DPA) A Canadian police trainer cusses skinny Afghan officers, doles out punitive drills with their rifles in the 40-degree Celsius heat, can kick them up the backside for the wrong stance - and they adore him. “We didn’t know how to fight properly but we are really happy to have this chance to learn how to take on our enemies,” said Abdul Haleem, one of 10 lowly policemen who in four intense days are transformed into a bodyguard unit for VIPs in Afghanistan’s restive southern Kandahar province.

They are the envy of their peers, plucked from uncoveted duties like manning checkpoints, to be groomed in various aspects of client protection from speed evacuation and hand-to-hand combat to detecting car bombs.

It’s a fraction of the training they would ideally receive, but the country is still in turmoil following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban radical Islamic militia, and its Western-backed security forces are in their infancy.

“I’m taking techniques from a wide variety of special forces and I’m teaching you to implement them in a war zone - you guys are learning a lot,” says “Wilson,” an undercover member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police whose real identity cannot be revealed for security reasons.

Half the group received some basic instruction when they first joined up, but the others, including 22-year-old Haleem, were simply given uniforms and weapons and pitched into the struggle against the resurgent Taliban.

Most have been in firefights and clearly impressed their superiors. The 10 were recently singled out and sent to the crash course in Kandahar city under a 3-year, $99-million Canadian government programme to boost the police force and army.

The bodyguards will be split into two units that will work in both uniform and plainclothes. Throughout the rehearsals of practical skills, Wilson drums it into his students that appearance and attitudes are as important as the skills themselves.

“Keep yourself smart and your car clean. The bad guys will also look at how you hold your rifle, if you look like a hard target they will attack a softer target,” he stresses during a tea break.

He is tough on them but ensures the Muslim officers get good food and drink and can pray at required times of the day.

Wilson is assisted by Canadian army’s Sergeant-Major Collin Norris, who with 35 years of explosives expertise, teaches the Afghan officers how to identify and react to the mines, roadside bombs and suicide bombers they can expect to encounter while minding clients.

“If they remember only 40 percent of what I show them it will save lives,” Norris said after some wearying classroom sessions.

The need for competent bodyguards was brutally underscored three days before the start of training when unknown gunmen shot dead a local member of the national parliament, Haji Habibullah Jan, as he drove to his office.

He was the latest in a string of officials and tribal leaders to be murdered, usually by the Taliban as they try to regain control of Kandahar, their movement’s spiritual home.

But raising such specialised police squads is hampered by conditions that also affect the rest of the Afghan force of 70,000 officers. Despite the additional risks they will take in the line of duty, the men do not believe they will receive extra pay.

“I am a policeman and I’m fighting in the front lines for $100 a month,” Sergeant Noor Ahmad tells a reporter. “I have a family to feed and clothe, do you think that’s enough?”

Nonetheless, the officers brim with pride at a graduation ceremony, when they are awarded certificates in front of the man they will protect, a prominent official who, owing to earlier assassination attempts, wished to remain anonymous.

“I’m a very important target for the Taliban, there have been a lot of attacks on me and some of my men have died,” he tells a reporter as he stoically takes charge of his new unit, or perhaps vice versa.

“I trust my men but I am a Muslim, I trust God more - my life is in his hands,” he says.

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