ABOVE: For storing their rifles when not in use, the AUP hang them by their front sight posts from nails in the wall. From left to right; AK47 with missing stock, RPG-7, AKM with GP-25, forty-round magazine and issued web sling (notice the cloth wrap around the stock), Romanian AIM with head band around stock and cleaning rag tied to it, AMD65 missing the folding stock and wiring along with tape and wire wrapped around the foregrip (notice this is in brown furniture, many are in green), Chinese Type 56-1, missing stock, forty-round magazine and attached bayonet. Some patrolmen cover their rifles in tape and decorative stickers.
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Since 2005, the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) have been providing a paramilitary force capable of stabilizing reconstruction efforts and will continue to provide a long term security force for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This essay takes a look at the small arms, equipment, and organization of a Police unit based out of the Loy Kolay Precinct, Nawa district in Helmand province. During the time frame of this article, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Infantry Regiment (1/9) was supporting the AUP and ANA positions in Nawa Ye-Baraksi district. Since then, 2/6 has taken over. (A note on abbreviations, AUP was formally designated Afghan National Police (ANP). This is not to be confused with the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghanistan’s standing army, or the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a community based police program.)
Closing with and destroying the enemy through fire and maneuver has been a storied trademark of Marine riflemen for 236 years. A much more enduring task in Afghanistan is providing security for the country so Afghans can make democracy work on their own long after the United States has pulled out. By advising and training a functioning Army and Police force to provide security, this is becoming a reality. All over Helmand, from Garsmir to Sangin, Marines are living with ANA and AUP forces in patrol bases, working with and mentoring them. One such permanent position is at Loy Kolay, and this is where this article will primarily focus upon.
The Loy Kolay Police precinct headquarters and Marine partnered Patrol Base (PB) is ten kilometers south of the capitol of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, and is typical of the partnered stations in Nawa Ye-Baraksi district. Usually consisting of a reinforced squad of Marines and twice that amount of AUP patrolmen, the stations are modeled after the Combined Action Platoons of the Vietnam War (as is written about in The Village by Bing West (Pocket Books, 2002). The Marines and AUP are autonomous; they have their own mobile sections, supplies, and a shared Area of Operations (AO) for which they are responsible. The ultimate mission for the Marines is to advise and assist the AUP in order for them to take charge of provincial security on their own. If any readers are curious as to what type of force the AUP are similar to, they are akin to a national police force. They are police in the general scheme of things but do not operate in the way a typical police department would because they have national jurisdiction.
Organization and Missions
The police commander of Loy Kolay precinct is in charge of three other police checkpoints within the region. He in turn reports to the Nawa district police chief at District Center, which is twelve kilometers south of the Loy Kolay precinct. District Center is also partnered with U.S. Marine Patrol Base Jaker, a large patrol base featured in the documentary of the same name (David Scantling, Waltzing Matilda Films, 2010). There are approximately 20-30 patrolmen at any time detailed to the Loy Kolay precinct headquarters. To help run this, the commander has an executive officer, an administration officer, some Sergeants and junior team leaders. The Patrolmen’s duties include vehicle/foot patrols, Vehicle Checkpoints (VCPs), and standing post. Some Patrolmen are from the local area, but most are from nearby districts or as far away as Kandahar and the Pakistani border. Local men may go home on weekends but the others take leave only every three to five months. They sign service contracts ranging from one to two years. The ultimate goal for both the AUP and the Marines is to get all the Patrolmen into the Police Academy in Lashkar Gah, which is a two month training school. Officers attend school in programs ranging from three to six years.
Uniforms and Equipment
Uniforms and equipment are largely the same among the AUP in Nawa Ye-Baraksi. There are three primary uniform colors; green, black, and either light or dark blue. Most patrolmen have the new light blue uniform based on the U.S Army’s ACU design. These include Velcro pockets, zippered front openings, shoulder and ankle pockets and blousing ties. An American based M65 field jacket is used in the cold weather months, complete with Velcro patches, liners, and a fur collar. Covers are universal and are a stiff material with sewn in ear muffs and the AUP emblem on the front. The older uniforms are much like the U.S Marine Corp’s Service Bravos and are even sometimes accompanied by a blue tanker jacket. Patches include Police Battalion crests, AUP emblems and Afghan flags. Some Marine Infantry Battalions have left their mark by giving the AUP stickers and patches of their emblems and mottos.
Footwear is a mix of Marine boots, aftermarket tactical boots and sometimes sandals or regular shoes. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is limited at best. Although the Loy Kolay police have enough Kevlar helmets for some to be used on foot patrols, they are never taken out of their berthing. Some patrolmen have either fake or real eye protection and occasionally wear them. Many vests have back panels for SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert, ceramic plates capable of stopping up to 7.62mm) plates but the AUP are not issued any. In the author’s time at Loy Kolay, he only saw two American issued SAPI plates, and they were kept as good luck omens, never taken out of a berthing.
Load bearing equipment differs from patrolman to patrolman and is not yet standardized; some are aftermarket Chinese copies of western tactical vests. These come in a wide array of colors and styles: woodland and desert MARPAT, army ACU, black, blue, woodland analog, and desert chocolate chip. Others are copies of green or tan Vietnam War style AKM magazine pouches. There is an official blue AUP patrol vest but it is not widely used. A combat load usually consists of three magazines and some water but patrolmen carry everything from Flexicufs to metal handcuffs, tourniquets, whistles, VOG-25 grenades, Icom radios and of course, naswar tobacco for anybody who is familiar with the region. Some patrolmen disregard the vests altogether and put on patrol belts with magazines and batons attached.
Communication between checkpoints and stations is provided by Japanese made ICOM radios and receivers. These are generic throughout the Middle East and are also used by the Taliban. When generators are down, the receivers are powered by solar panels. For transportation, AUP use civilian cars and motorbikes in addition to Ford Rangers. At higher levels, trucks that are similar in appearance to American military seven ton trucks are used for moving large quantities of supplies. These have waist high rails on the bed and a turret mount and port in the cab.
Ford Rangers are manual, all-wheel drive crew-cab trucks, specially equipped for AUP missions. All are light green with markings on them indicating AUP units and vehicle numbers. ANA Ford Rangers are all either a light tan or a camouflage splotched pattern. Special additions include Vistal SL sirens, five foot CB whip antennas, heavy duty trailer hitches, winches, brush guards with side steps and all-terrain tires. Lockable tool boxes, tie down D rings in the bed, dual rifle rack in between the front seats, adjustable spot lights, and a fuel tank rigs are standard. These trucks are made in Australia but assembled in Thailand. Mounted on the center of the roll bar is a machine gun pintle mount, which can mount an AUP PKM or M240. For mobile missions, patrolmen fill the cab and then have a number of patrolmen seated in the bed. Since the bed usually contains food supplies and blankets that take up much space, the patrolmen have a good platform to sit or stand on.
The operations of the AUP at Loy Kolay are primarily centered on three types of missions: mobile patrols, foot patrols, and VCPs. Each one of these can be either independent of the Marines or partnered with them. All missions are usually confined to the northern part of Nawa and the Helmand River, with the exception of supply and administration trips to Lashkar Gah. Partnered foot patrols are kept at squad size and are sent to areas that the Marines need to go to, but the AUP pick missions and tasks as well. When going on a foot patrol, patrolmen take a combat load and their issued rifle. Occasionally, a patrolman will bring along the station’s PKM medium machine gun. A team leader or squad leader might also take a 40mm Low Velocity Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) GP25 or a 9x19mm NATO Smith & Wesson SW9VE.
For VCPs, the AUP use four or more patrolmen and bring their combat load and sometimes the PKM. Checkpoints consist of stopping all vehicle and foot traffic, inquiring about their situations, checking National ID cards, and searching vehicles for contraband, weapons or IED materials. Out of traditional Islamic respect for women, vehicles with women inside are not stopped and allowed to pass unsearched.
Mobile patrols consist of motorcycles and/or Ford Rangers. Combat loads and rifles are taken, as is the PKM with either type of transport. For the Ford Rangers, patrolmen take all the seats in the cab as well as piling in the back of the already loaded bed section. Maintaining a patrolman observing each sector, there are no safety straps or seats in place. Also, for ease of operation, the PKM isn’t mounted to the pintle mount, which is really only useful for frontal targets within 90 degrees of the cab. If this appears as unsafe travel, it is. Most roads in Helmand are hard enough for Marine tactical vehicles, much more for civilian pickup trucks. Outside the urban areas, all rural roads are dirt and unimproved. Most run alongside full or dried up canals and vehicle roll over’s and accidents are not uncommon. In September of 2011, an IED hit a Ford Ranger in a public figure’s convoy. The two men in the cab survived unscathed but the two men in the bed were thrown out and subsequently died.
When using motorcycles for mobile patrols, three or more are taken. Combat loads, rifles are standard with the occasional PKM. Police ride two to a bike and have a round in the chamber before riding off. Since patrolmen are sometimes from the areas in which they patrol on foot, they usually just have a magazine inserted and only load a round in suspect areas or situations. But with mobile patrols there might not be enough time to chamber a round when seconds count. In addition, Taliban have been known to shoot at AUP on motorcycles as well as from their own vehicles.
The AUP and the ALP primarily issue two pistols, the 9x19mm S&W SW9VE (AUP) and the 9x18mm Makorov (ALP). The SW9VE is supplied by Smith and Wesson in five contracts beginning in 2005. The pistol is a variant of their polymer striker fired line based on the Sigma series. It is issued to officers, squad leaders and occasionally guards or patrolmen going on solo trips for personal protection. The only ammunition observed used with the SW9VE is from the Lone Wolf ammunition company. Holsters come in many varieties and designs. Since traditional Afghan clothes do not incorporate belts or belt loops, shoulder holsters are very popular. When worn under a coat or a shawl, as many men wear on motorcycles, it makes the pistol and ammunition very concealable. Most shoulder holsters are cheap cloth or leather tactical types with straps to secure the pistol and saddle slots for individual rounds of ammunition. Some will have a magazine pouch either on the holster or on the opposite side of the harness. When AUP are in uniform they use two types of holsters, a conventional belt mounted holster with a flap and a very simple leather device that mounts on the belt and keeps the pistol secure but is not protected from the elements. If these are not available, many simply jam it into their belt or pockets. Also, when in uniform, officers have a tendency to position their pistols in a cross draw fashion while team leaders use a strong arm side.
The patrolman’s standard issue rifle is the AKM in various versions or configurations. These rifles come from countries like Pakistan and Romania and the AUP has quite a variety of them. AKs seen in use include, Chinese Type 56s, Hungarian AMD65Ss (wood and green furniture), Russian AKMs and AK47s, Romanian AIM’s, Bulgarian AKKs, and Peshawar copies. Rifles are issued to patrolmen and they take them to which ever station they are assigned to, and they even take them home on leave. Considering the age of the AKs in use, they have stood up to a good deal of hard use. Serial numbers are telling, the most recent Romanian AIM seen was made in 1985, but most were made in the 1970s. These rifles are very wide spread among the AUP in Helmand. Some stocks are broken and the rifles are left without wooden stocks. Hungarian AMD65s seem to have the most breakages with the rod stock snapping at the swivel. Most Chinese AKs are missing the attached bayonet but some still remain. Peshawar AKs are easy to identify because all the parts are from different rifles and the markings are poorly stamped. Few issued AK slings remain and contraptions are made out of uniform belts, strips of cloth, engineering tape, and headbands. In the hands of the AUP, accuracy is average to minimal, however this is not due to the rifles – Marines have shot them on partnered ranges and have had good results on paper. Ammunition is usually entirely Lone Wolf 7.62x39mm. For zeroing, most patrolmen have to use Kentucky windage because front sight adjustment tools are very rare.
The AUP’s primary fire support weapon is the PKM medium machine gun of Russian origin. Carried out on most missions, it is equivalent in use and deployment to the Marine Corps’ M240B medium machine gun. Coupled with a saddle box attached for the belted ammunition, it is slung over a patrolman’s shoulder while on a foot patrol or held while on motorcycles or trucks. For additional belts of ammunition, patrolmen wrap the belts around their waists and shoulders in a manner that keeps them secure. The Ford Rangers have post mounts designed to work with the PKM and M240s, but the police do not attach machine guns on them because it only allows forward coverage. Equipped with a haphazard sling and bipods locked up, the AUP prefer it over the RPK and take good care of it. Cleaning the PKM and keeping it clean is an important priority for the AUP. For bases such as Loy Kolay or larger, two or more PKMs are present. But for smaller outposts, usually only a single PKM and RPG are all they have for heavy armament. Of note is that the AUP and ANA have not been seen to bring spare barrels out on missions. For their light machine gun, the AUP have the RPK but have rarely taken it out at Loy Kolay. Ammunition for the PKM is a split between Lone Wolf and an unknown source 7.62x54Rmm.
GP-25 grenade launchers firing the VOG 25 round are used extensively on all types of missions and are akin to Marine 40x46mm M203s mounted on M4s and M16A4s. Unlike the M203, the GP-25 can be easily dismounted and the AKM is back to its original configuration. When M203s are dismounted, the rifle needs a lower handguard which is not issued to the Marine for it to be back to a M16A4 or M4. GP-25s are usually carried by squad leaders, team leaders, or senior patrolmen, accompanied by a vest of magazines and VOG 25 rounds, or a specially made satchel of 10 rounds that is carried on a sling. The satchel is sometimes affixed to the front of the vest or simply slung off to the side of the patrolman. RPG-7s are the heaviest armament in the AUP arsenal and are used very respectfully and with discretion. Usually only one launcher goes out on mobile missions where patrolmen don’t have to hump the extra rockets along with them in the canvas carry pack. Anti-personnel rockets are carried but a few anti-tank rockets with the bulbous warhead have been seen in use. For both GP-25 grenades and RPG rockets, origin of ammunition is usually Bulgarian noted by the “10” encircled factory designation.
Patrolmen are generally very good at keeping their weapons clean and well lubricated. Using Marine supplied CLP fluid and diesels oil as lubricants, they clean their personal weapons once a week on average. The PKM is cleaned by several patrolmen at once or by a single senior patrolman who is experienced with the machine gun. For materials, they use anything available and make much out of little. Old rags, ripped clothing and brushes are all used extensively. Even an improvised “Bore Snake” made out of a silky rag and shoe string tied together is utilized. When done cleaning or not in use, the rags are stuffed in the orifice behind the trigger mechanism in rifles that do not have stocks. Otherwise it is wrapped around some part of the rifle, wedged in between the hand guards or even used as a sort of muzzle cap by tying it around the muzzle and stuffing it in. Cigarette butts are used for this purpose as well. An interesting technique that the AUP do is that once finished cleaning their weapons, they leave them out in the sun to dry.
For Soviet small arms and their clones, an equal amount of copper tainted Soviet and gray Lone Wolf is supplied to the AUP. Magazines and belts are intertwined with both kinds in 7.62×39 and 7.62x54R. The 9x19mm rounds for the SW9VE pistols are mostly Lone Wolf. On one occasion, the author inspected some magazines in a patrolman’s vest only to find that the top ten rounds were blanks. Whether this had a purpose or not, the author still found it very odd to find a magazine with blanks on a combat patrol. Patrolmen do fire warning shots quite often to stop vehicles or get a farmer’s attention.
The Afghan United Police have come a long way since Afghanistan won its independence from vicious Taliban rule. But they still have a long way to go in terms of developing a professional force capable of standing up to today’s insurgency. Many patrolmen are illiterate with their only formal education being the Police Academy. Some defect to the Taliban or simply desert. Most of the police work conducted is rudimentary, without the introduction of investigative services and support. Villagers living in conditions more akin to the 15th century than the 21st are still coming to terms with a professional police force to back them up. Most stations are heavily reliant on Coalition Forces for fuel, water and ammunition. The future is uncertain for Afghanistan and its people, especially with the imminent American military draw back. The American efforts of time, material, and training have been thoroughly shared, but whether or not the AUP and the new country can pull through depends entirely up to them and their willpower from now on.
(Special Thanks to Liza Ponomarekno, Kit Young, Randy Lambert, and the Marines and Afghans at PB Loy Kolay.)