Pay team ensures Afghan Local Police remain on the job

25 Sep 2011 | Master Gunnery Sgt. Phil Mehringer

Providing security in Afghanistan is a coalition effort that centers on the development of Afghan security forces at the local, regional and national levels. Here in Helmand province, the Afghan Local Police are an intricate part of this security team; their role is to provide security at local villages.

Security starts at the street level and there is no better way to identify insurgents than by having local citizens point out unknown visitors. Local citizens are the first line of defense in a village, and the cooperation of the locals sets the security tone of an area. The result is the effectiveness of the local police determines the amount of insurgent activity in an area.

“It’s pretty easy for me to figure out who doesn’t belong in my village when I know everyone living here,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Steve Jackson, the senior enlisted for Regional Command Southwest’s Stability Operations, C9. “The ALP can ask all the detailed questions while determining the legitimacy of an outsider visiting the area.”

The Afghan Ministry of Interior remains in control of the ALP program which is a “village-focused program that complements counterinsurgency efforts by targeting rural areas with limited to no Afghan National Security Force presence to enable conditions for improved security, governance and development,” according to an International Stability Assistance Force statement. The program is authorized up to 10,000 members distributed by 300 per Tashkil (district) and down to 30 ALP members per village.

Ensuring the ALP is paid on time is the responsibility of Gunnery Sgt. Bryan Tanner, Development Chief, C9, Stability Operations, who visits all of the ALP units in Helmand Province monthly.” The process for delivering payments to ALP members is a simple one,” said Tanner, who coordinates his visits with ALP mentoring teams, responsible for the day-to-day operations and training of ALP members.

“On payday the ALP members show up, we meet with them in a Shura tent, call them in one-by-one, and pay them their monthly salary,” said Tanner.

Nothing in Afghanistan is simple. Marines say conducting business with the Afghans is often a challenge, and when paying the ALP, “every imaginable problem comes your way,” said Capt. Richard Willing, British Army, an officer-in-charge of an ALP mentoring Team in Nahr-e-Saraj district.

Tanner and Jackson have been handling ALP payments for six months now, since taking over the payment program from I Marine Expeditionary Force, and have been through every imaginable pay problem during their tenure.

“Don’t be surprised if there are a few upset ones,” said Jackson, before entering the shura tent.” Pay complaints are always present, he explained before beginning to pay the ALP’s, “ but we’ll teach them how to do payroll themselves and eventually the ALP will be paid by Afghans with Afghan money.”

However several ALP members were not present today, and the first problem arose when the ALP commander said he will collect their pay on their behalf. This is not allowed under the current pay rules that are designed to combat the theft and corruption so prevalent in Afghan government agencies.

“You must be present to be paid,” said Tanner as Willing dealt with other complaints from the Afghan police. They were complaining about unfair pay, not enough pay and disagreements about the amount of hours worked. Willing was quickly overrun with complaints, and as the drama unfolded the interpreter assigned to the Marines was saying, “They are ready to quit.”

While Willing and the interpreter struggled to resolve the different pay issues, the local ALP commander provided comments in support of his policeman. “My men are good people and are working so hard,” said Muhomed, who’s in charge of the local nine-man ALP unit. Recently Muhomed said he had to replace several of his men who quit because they were scared of being attacked by the Taliban. ALP members must sign a one-year contract of duty and be 18-45 years of age. Once accepted they receive a 21-day non-offensive training program consisting of the use of weaponry, rule of law, searches and seizures, battle drill and communications. They also receive classes on human rights, ethics and the proper use of force.

“For now,” said Muhomed, “security in town is OK.”

Tanner and the ALP pay team considered their mission accomplished and departed the shura tent as Willing and his interpreter continued to counter complaints for the next hour.

After resolving most of the complaints, Willing joined Tanner’s group who were waiting for them outside. “Today they all want to quit,” said Willing. “But we’ll have another shura tomorrow,” adding that disagreements over pay are a common occurrence.

Tanner explained that the funding for the ALP program is carried out through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), which is a discretionary unit fund scheduled to end soon. Funding and the responsibility to pay the ALP will be transferred transition to Afghan Security Forces Funds and will be delivered by Afghan security officials. The goal is to have the Afghan government agencies step up and take responsibility for their own portfolios of services.

As scheduled, Willing’s shura took place the next day and the captain’s diplomatic skill and relaxed demeanor brought calmness to the previous day’s chaos. The ALP members then continued to man their posts and provide security to the village.

Security is improving, but remains fragile. Although Patrol Base 1 has witnessed its share of insurgent activity in the past, one can hear children playing outside the compound walls, a positive sign of security in favor of coalition forces.

For more on this and other stories from Regional Command Southwest, including follow-on interviews with servicemembers featured in this story, please contact Tim Love at tlove@dvidshub.net and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. Also, be sure to check out the Regional Command Southwest Roundup, a weekly selection of the top stories from combat correspondents in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.