KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Late on a Saturday morning in southern Afghanistan, Capt. Kent Pressley, an International Security Assistance Force adviser, sat in on a security meeting with Brig. Gen. Nasrullah Zarifi, an Afghan National Police commander.
The meeting focused on the security details of Regional Training Center – Kandahar, an ANP training center in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, where new recruits learn how to enforce the law and keep the peace.
The nature of the meeting is serious. At one point, things even get a little tense. But Pressley has been working directly with Zarifi for several months, and he knows how to navigate the meeting. Pressley cracks a joke and the environment loosens up. The participants, ISAF and ANP alike, share a laugh and drink tea.
The meeting is a nutshell of the relationship Pressley and his Train Advise and Assist Team members have developed with Zarifi, who refers to Pressley and his team as “family.”
“I communicate with the general at least three times a day and visit him three times a week. And he visits me twice a week,” said Pressley, a U.S. Army reservist with 95th Training Division who deployed with the 108th Training Command’s Detachment 119 as the commander of Task Force Cobra. “Gen. Zarifi is an outstanding general. He’s there for his Soldiers 24/7. He is an intelligent commander who speaks Pashto, Dari, Russian and English.”
Zarifi, the commander of RTC-K, took over full responsibility for the training center from ISAF Oct. 10, 2013.
Regional Training Center – Kandahar is one of the largest police training centers in Afghanistan. It offers five courses for new and experienced members of the ANP: a basic training course, a noncommissioned officer course, a literacy course, an Afghan Local Police course, and a female basic training course.
All four courses have seen a recent uptick in numbers.
“They’re graduating more students, and they’re doing almost everything independently,” Pressley said, adding that the current basic training course boasts “the largest class” in its history.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Garcia, an ISAF noncommissioned officer in charge of advising at RTC-K, advises Zarifi on the day-to-day activities at RTC-K. He said he has seen a “huge improvement” in the country, which means something considering he is currently serving on his third deployment in Afghanistan. He also lived for four months at RTC-K along with Pressley and five others before it was handed over completely to the Afghans.
“They don’t need us for instructional purposes any longer,” he said.
Garcia spoke about Zarifi’s philosophy in training Afghan police officers.
“Gen. Zarifi is the general of the pen,” Garcia said, adding that Zarifi would rather his police officers use their minds over a weapon. “He is huge on education.”
Garcia, a civilian police officer in the U.S., said he agrees with Zarifi.
“As a police officer in the civilian world, we use our minds and our mouths more than a weapon,” he said. “Our communication skills are vital.”
For other students at RTC-K – namely those in the literacy course – the pen truly takes center stage, although the course offers more than just reading and writing lessons.
Maj. Dan Popa, a Romanian officer in charge of advising literacy training at RTC-K, said that students in the literacy course also learn basic math, geography, history and religion.
“I think it’s going well. They are preparing themselves to become teachers,” he said, explaining that students in the literacy course graduate and go back to their own ANP units to teach others what they learned. “The instructors are doing a great job.”
Popa added that students in the literacy course learn in both Dari and Pashto.
“It will be easy for them to teach others because they know both Dari and Pashto,” he said. “It is an advantage because in their units, they have speakers of both languages.”
Second Lt. Ahmad Mansour, an ANP officer who has been in the service for about three years, plays a big role in the basic training experience. He is currently the physical training officer for the basic trainees. He exercises with the new ANP members every day except Friday, he said.
When new members first arrive at the training center, they don’t know much about discipline and the physical requirements of the ANP, he said. That, however, changes by the end of the basic training course.
“They are capable of doing their tasks and their jobs by the end of the training,” Mansour said.
Mansour added that things are going “very well” at RTC-K, and that other than the standard morning runs, the Afghan police trainees conduct physical training through sport activities such as soccer, volleyball and cricket.
In addition to physical training, the basic trainees learn the most basic yet important skill all police officers need: how to use their weapons.
Staff Sgt. Jeff Olvera, another ISAF police adviser with the TAAT, helps advise the Afghan instructors on how to instruct their students on weapons maintenance, usage, and proper clearing procedures.
“They start off crawling with the very basic stuff,” he said. “By the end of the course, they know standard operating procedures.”
He added that it is a “good feeling to have an impact on the overall mission” that ISAF has had since the Afghans have taken the lead on the security of their country. Regional Training Center – Kandahar and other Afghan National Security Forces training centers around Afghanistan will play a large part in determining the success of the transition.
Zarifi himself is pleased with the progress of RTC-K.
“The Soldiers’ morale is up, and since the U.S. left on Oct. 10, they have raised the bar higher,” Zarifi said.
Pressley and his team have enjoyed working with Zarifi and the other leaders at RTC-K.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “To see them from four months ago… they have taken a huge step forward.”