Thursday, June 17, 2010

Building a ring of steel

Kabul is a sprawling city with an estimated population of four million people. Its streets are crowded with thousands of cars, a vast majority of them white Toyotas typically on the warning alert watch.

Although Kabul is considered relatively safe, insurgents still manage to surprise the city with random attacks, most recently on a U.S. convoy that killed five Americans and one Canadian soldier. To protect the city, its residents and the large number of UN and foreign organizations located here, the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are creating secure perimeters around the city.

Part of a new initiative to secure Kabul from the inside out, the layers of security include five Army forward operating bases, a series of city gates, and a string of 25ANP checkpoints known as the ring of steel.

My co-worker and I recently visited some these checkpoints with some of the engineers from Regional Command – Central who have been helping the ANP organize and build up the security stops. Before the engineers got involved earlier this year, the ANP had hundreds of checkpoints dotted randomly around the city, but they weren’t as effective as they needed to be. Under RC-C guidance, the ANP has consolidated the scattered checkpoints into a tight perimeter and built them up to be easily recognized.

Designed to cover every point of entry, by both foot and vehicle traffic, into the city center, the ring of steel is considered to be a low-cost, high-payoff project for the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) who has helped fund and equip the checkpoints. The checkpoints have been outfitted with barriers, booths, traffic control tools and big blue signs. The plan was to make it a comfortable place for the police to serve and to make the stops visible, legitimate and hard to duplicate, in order to prevent unofficial stops.

While the engineers said that the security plan for Kabul was still relatively immature, the ANP have made huge strides, and security is better than it was even just two months ago. During our tour of the checkpoints, we stopped at the busiest one with the most traffic, one located at the end of a footbridge leading into the city center and one in a residential neighborhood. We got the opportunity to talk to some of the residents, including Mohammad Maroof, a taxi driver who has been a Kabul resident for 40 years. He said that the locals feel more comfortable with the police presence there.

“We all sleep comfortable at night, even when our doors are open because the ANP is here and security is pretty good,” he said. “We feel more secure here and the shop keepers are open late at night. Our children are safe.”

While they have a ways to go, as far as training and equipment, learning how to man the checkpoints and earn the trust of the citizens, with the help of NTM-A, the ANP and Army have a successful start.

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