As casualties soar, Afghan police taught how to stay alive

At a training centre near Kabul, one overriding lesson is drilled into Afghan police by their French instructors -- don`t become yet another unnecessary battlefield casualty.

AFP| Last Updated: Nov 26, 2014, 13:44 PM IST

Kabul: At a training centre near Kabul, one overriding lesson is drilled into Afghan police by their French instructors -- don`t become yet another unnecessary battlefield casualty.

Every day this year more than a dozen Afghan police and soldiers have died in the fight against Taliban insurgents, with poor tactical awareness a key factor blamed for the devastating toll.

The high casualty rate is one of the biggest concerns for Afghan leaders as the US-led NATO coalition ends its 13-year war next month and the national security forces take over the task of thwarting the militants.

In one effort to help reduce fatalities and injuries, France`s elite police unit RAID has been holding week-long training courses focused on improving the survival skills of government forces.

During a mock assault exercise using plastic weapons, one wayward recruit takes a dangerous position opposite a doorway.

"Always think of your own safety, guys!" the exasperated instructor shouts, before reflecting: "They just don`t have basic training, either for shooting weapons or on the tactical level."

At the invitation of Kabul police chief Zahir Zahir, the RAID team has taught practical exercises and live firing sessions to several groups of 30 police cadets.

"The purpose of this course is to minimise the loss of human lives," said Eric Petit, a French police commander and expert on international security training.

"This is the top priority of the Afghan police, I understand, but they still have a lot of casualties."

The Afghan army and police have suffered badly in recent years, with 4,634 killed in combat from January to the beginning of November this year, on top of 4,350 killed during 2013, according to the US military.

Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, the number two US officer in Afghanistan, recently said the local security forces were increasingly capable but he admitted the casualty rate was "not sustainable in the long term".

Afghan battlefield tactics are often still based on the 1980s Soviet era, with men sent charging towards danger without assessing the situation or following an assault plan.The French instructors try to impart the importance of avoiding risks through reconnaissance, discipline and planning.

Lessons include how to storm a house without exposing oneself or colleagues to gunfire, and how to use weapons safely and accurately.

But not all goes to plan as two Afghan policemen try to show off their best routines.

The French instructors use an interpreter to call out "where`s the danger?" and they berate officers who stand in the wrong place with their guns pointing at the floor rather than held up, ready to fire.

"Look, we could easily gun them all down from here," whispers one instructor observing the scene.

Then the whole scenario is replayed with the police advised how to improve their tactics.

On the firing range, the instructors run through the basic shooting positions and stress the need for strict safety standards.

"Put your weapon in the belt hostler when you are not on at the firing line," shouts one French trainer as a policeman holds his gun casually by his side.

The weapons being used -- Beretta and P38 handguns -- are ancient and in bad repair.

One gun gets a bullet jammed in the barrel during the exercise, and ammunition is in short supply.

"Ten rounds each is not enough. It is not worth even wasting money on petrol to drive us out for so little," said one young Afghan policeman after firing off his bullets.

Another challenge is the risk of so-called "green-on-blue" attacks -- when Afghan soldiers or police turn their guns on international troops -- a major problem during NATO`s long years fighting alongside Afghan forces.

To prevent any such disaster, a French marksman stands close by, surveying the lesson closely.

"The first week has given mixed results... this is an initial training," admitted Petit.