‘Into the surge’: Colonel shares story

During the 2010 troop surge in Afghanistan, the number of international forces in the southern regions of the country grew from 70 to 100,000. In Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where the heaviest fighting with the Taliban was taking place, the numbers of available soldiers shifted from 15, 000 to almost 60,000 troops.

“What does that allow you to do?” Colonel David Patterson, of the Canadian forces, proposed last Thursday evening at the Laurier Center for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) at Wilfrid Laurier University. The answer: stay once the Taliban have been driven out of an area, strengthen relationships with local leaders and vastly improve the capability of Afghans to take control of their own security.

Colonel Patterson brings a unique perspective to recent events in Afghanistan.

Having served in Kandahar province from Oct. 2010 to 2011, he was part of a headquarters company assigned to work directly with the newly arrived United States 10th Mountain Division. Part of Regional Command South, they had responsibility over four provinces, Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul. By also being part of a mentoring program, Colonel Patterson ran a UN funded emergency call center, the first of its kind outside of Kandahar city.

A system of “tip lines” already existed across Afghanistan allowed citizens to report on insurgent activity, but this project sought to be something more. Responsible for all of Regional Command South, they fielded thousands of calls each month.

“The challenge for the Afghans was they wanted to make it free. The problem with that is it gets overused,” Patterson explained. “We would get thousands of calls a month, of which 90 per cent of them were harassing against the operators. But if we did get an emergency call we would report to the proper, usually police organization, we could coordinate with the army, but most of the calls went to the police.”

This marks an important watershed for Afghanistan’s transition towards peace. To date, the Afghan National Army has been the first, and only responder to any emergency.

Colonel Patterson explained the desire to create a professional, legitimate Afghan police force, which would take over civil protection from the National Army.

This shift in focus has already proven beneficial. On May 7, 2011, when Kandahar City was attacked by Taliban forces, it was the police, not international troops who handled the threat.

Patterson stressed one of the most important things necessary to move forward was governmental legitimacy.

“There’s a lot of effort being put into institutional organization, setting up things like police… but people don’t see that on a daily basis, but they see the billboards for the call centre,” he added.

However, simply seeing is not believing, a tangible element is necessary for the call centers to have an impact, “The challenge is to make sure something happens when they [Afghan’s] call. A policeman shows up and asks some questions… if nothing happens then people quickly lose faith.”

Reflecting on his time in Afghanistan, Patterson emphasized how positive his work with the Afghan police force had been. He added it was not without its challenges.

“We had a lot of reports of police misconduct [at the call centre], people saying I got shaken down at a checkpoint, so we would pass that on to the Afghan police and their mentors. We were there at the very beginning, and they had a long way to develop, but the intent was to roll these out across all the regions of Afghanistan eventually,” Patterson said.

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