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Provincial Reconstruction Team uses infantry soldiers to bolster joint patrols

By Capt Tony Vincelli , Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affair

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LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (September 1, 2011) — Even before they arrived in Laghman, Infantry Soldiers from 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1-182nd Infantry Regiment were told many of their missions would entail providing security for the provincial reconstruction team’s key personnel as they conduct key leader engagements and quality assurance checks of ongoing construction projects throughout the province.

But as several areas have begun to transition security to Afghan control, including Laghman’s capital, Mehtar Lam, there is less focus on new development projects and more focus on how to build sustainable security, governance and development.

“We are really in the business of mentoring now, so that when we leave the Afghans will be ready, willing and able to build their country for themselves,” said Laghman PRT commander Air Force Lt. Col. Jayson L. Allen, a native of Portland, Ore.

Enter an evolution in mission focus – away from building and doing things for the Afghans, and instead doing things with them, like security patrols. 

The police transition assistance team consists of three Air Force security police. While they have many years of military law enforcement experience from which to draw from as they train their Afghan counterparts, they are limited in what they can do. 

The Airmen have established a strong partnership with the Army’s Security Force Assistance Team No. 1, led by Army Lt. Col. Adrian Donahoe, a Hawarden, Iowa native and seasoned trainer of military police units all over the world. The two teams along with U.S. civilian contractors with decades of civilian law enforcement experience have been working closely with Afghan police. 

“It was pretty obvious that they could more effectively widen their impact area with more bodies,” Allen said.

That is where the PRT’s SECFOR platoon comes in. That they are National Guard infantry soldiers – some with careers in civilian law enforcement – makes them well suited for a police training and joint patrol mission, said Allen.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. William Mehringer, a native of North Las Vegas and non-commissioned officer in charge of the PTAT, developed a plan to add additional personnel from the PRT to future joint patrols, which he says will effectively triple the force. 

“Since we typically have at least one Afghan Uniform Police officer for every coalition force member, for every soldier we add to the mission the Afghans add one, as well,” said Mehringer. “

The plan will call for more, smaller patrols to be conducted not only in Mehtar Lam, but along villages near the main and alternate supply routes in Alingar and Alisheng – known areas of insurgent and criminal activity. These “community interaction patrols”, as they are being called, are set to begin in September. According to Mehringer, many of these areas have not seen a police presence in years.

Instead of one 15-20 person patrol operating in an area, several smaller elements will canvas a larger area, interact with people and pass out information like tip-line cards that let people know there are police nearby and ready to respond. 

“The patrols will make it clear to the people in these areas that there is a legitimate GIRoA presence that they can turn to,” said Donahoe.

The smaller size of the patrols will make them intrinsically more dangerous, yet Donahoe and Allen agree conducting joint patrols with the Afghans and teaching them proper patrolling techniques is the best way to give them the confidence they will need to conduct their own patrols in Laghman. It is the need Allen saw and, in spite of the risk involved, why he volunteered to have his soldiers added to the mission. 

“The window is there. The mission has been identified, well planned and needs support,” Allen said. “Where is it going to come from if not from us?”