LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -- At any given time, there are several different Afghan forces responsible for security in Helmand province – each with a separate communications net and equipment set, and each dependent on the ability to talk in real time to the other agencies to effectively provide security.
To help ensure clear communication between the different arms of the Afghan National Security Forces in Helmand province, lead representatives of each of the Afghan security agencies joined with coalition communications leaders under Regional Command Southwest in a shura, or Afghan council, Sept. 24, at the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
The event marked the first time RC(SW) leaders had met with communications representatives from the various Afghan security elements, and may have been the first time the Afghan communicators had met as a group, said Col. David McMorries, Regional Command Southwest’s communications director.
“I was talking to the [Afghan National Army] representative, and he would have assumed that he had different problems than the police,” said McMorries. “I think they were surprised by how similar their issues were.”
The Afghan security elements present included the Afghan National Army, Uniformed Police, National Civil Order Police, Border Police and National Directorate of Security. Each of these organizations play a different role in security and stabilization in the province, and each must work together to avoid conflict and keep the populace secure from insurgent influence. The civil order and uniformed police forces serve as enforcers of the rule of law and provide basic police services, while the National Army and NDS stand by for missions the police agencies cannot tackle on their own. Problems can occur, when, for example, the local police force finds an insurgent weapons or explosives cache and needs to alert the National Army about it.
During the meeting the Afghan and coalition forces took turns discussing how the various agencies would respond to different scenarios and crises and outlining how each organization approaches communications right now.
The coalition forces went in to the meeting with the idea of helping the Afghans create a variant of a U.S. communications plan, although the result turned out to be quite different, as the Afghans created their own proposals, said McMorries.
“I expected one thing and we got something else, but it turns out it was better,” he explained. “Frankly what they can come up with will work better for them than any plan we can develop for them.”
The current channel of communications within the province is a sort of centralized command post known as an Operational Coordination Center. Each of the security agencies keeps a representative at the local OCC, and each agency maintains radio contact with their units in the field. In this model the sharing of information and coordination of missions is as easy as face-to-face interaction between the representatives at the center.
The OCCs exist at the provincial and district level, but ideally the communications shura will help lead to lower-level versions and more decentralized communications on the ground between the Afghan forces, said Col. Abdul Rezwan, the deputy communications officer for the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps.
Right now the biggest communications obstacles the ANSF agencies face are inadequate equipment and training, he added.
However, that is scheduled to change in the near future with the influx of new radios and other communications devices as part of the so-called “iron mountain”, a NATO initiative to inject large amounts of military equipment into Afghan hands over the next year, said McMorries.
Afghan units in Helmand should begin receiving communications equipment as part of the initiative within the next month, including more data network capabilities, he added.
The build-up of internet communications are important to the Afghan forces because, just as with coalition and U.S. forces, the various units and commands rely on email to move information up and down from the local to district to provincial to national levels, said Rezwan.
While Afghan and coalition leaders agreed that more communications shuras should take place in the near future, they hope the initial session will have paved the way for clearer coordination in the province’s security.
“I think a lot of the issues we brought up today will have solutions,” said McMorries when asked about what he hopes to see at the next shura.