Though taken months ago, these photos -- the above and some of the ones below snapped by the irrepressible and supremely talented Pam Smith -- are screaming to be shared. They are from a sendoff ceremony for a kandak of ANCOP about to deploy to the south. What is that again, you ask?
Afghan National Civil Order Police is an elite police force created to serve as a national asset, on the model of Italy's Carabinieri or France's Gendarmerie...which makes the numerous trainers from those and other countries which field such a force so necessary. Most countries may have a version of it, in fact...a national police force for restoring or preserving order in emergency situations, akin to the way an individual state in the U.S. might ostensibly use its National Guard troops.
Papa Smurf prepares his troops for inspection by the general...
(sorry, I just couldn't help it)
Gen. Mangal arrives to an anxious reception...
"You better watch your step!" That's good guarding.
ANCOP's mission is to provide civil order presence patrols, prevent violent public incidents, and provide crisis and anti-terror response in urban and metropolitan environments. They have 5 mobile brigades, stationed in the key populations centers of Kabul, Paktia, Kandahar, Helmand and Herat. Most noteworthy thus far have been their deployments to Kandahar, in order to bolster security there in what's been a deteriorating situation.
"And since you look green, I'll just take that now."
I love this shot of Pam's. In fact, this whole series...
"I said, I'm nervous as hell, SIR!"
(the troops genuinely adore Mangal, who I call the gentle bear)
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. MacDonald joins Mangal in the review of troops. And this kid says "Please let it end!"
All has not gone smoothly, of course. ANCOP units have been applauded for the job they've done in some places, and struggled in others. Attrition has been alarmingly high for a number of reasons. But the pride these soldier-policemen display was evident on this day, and the faith put in them to advance respect for Afghanistan's police is significant.
"I just can't look!" (no, no - it's prayer, of course)
An impressive moment at the outset of the ceremony...
...as the unit chaplain, a young mullah, called out a beautiful prayer.
Another solemn moment of prayer went out to the deploying cops...
"See no evil"?
The ANCOP motto is "In Service to the People"...and they better mean it if they seek to win over the population, which has grown accustomed to the corruption too often found in Afghanistan's police forces. Typical of the system is baksheesh, or bribes paid to police officers for simply avoiding arrest, warranted or otherwise. ANCOP officers have a whole lot of the desired security framework of the country riding on their shoulders, as they seek to build a reputation of honest and supportive (yet more lethal) police.
All this took place directly under the brown hills of Kabul.
Naturally, I couldn't stop wondering about the old fort high above.
My near-constant sarcasm aside, I found the sendoff to be a moving event. General Mangal spoke from the heart about the duties of the national police, the honor they must exhibit, and the sacrifice they may be called upon to make. He speaks softly, but with authority and a wealth of experience, not to mention a common touch. Brig. Gen. MacDonald has an inspiring story of her own, as one of the first female cadets ever enrolled in West Point, and also spoke with the authority of one who has spent over 30 years in the service of her country. But it was the portly colonel pictured below who really stole the show, building with emotion as he exhorted the troops to make their country proud.
Back at the ceremony in the baking sun, the 5th speaker drones.
My man on the left says it all. How much longer?
"It is my honor to serve Afghanistan!"
The shout-out after receiving an award is always a highlight.
Over in Potbelly Row, the old guard was hurtin' too.
The force is now exchanging the uniforms seen in these pics, the same uniform worn by Afghan police in localities around the country, for more combat-ready digital camouflage fatigues. Here is a story about the roll-out of those unis, and the deployment graced by their debut.
Les Afghans et la Gendarmerie surmontent les obstacles pour construire un centre international
Oh, you can't read le francais either? Quelle honte! You're just not as international as we are at NATO Training Mission Afghanistan. Well, that one is actually about the construction of their regional training center. Here is the one I promised...
Elite Afghan police unit deploys south with new uniforms