Northern Ireland’s contentious marching season could provide perfect training opportunities for Afghan police officers, a senior soldier has said.
Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Piggott whose troops from the Royal Dragoon Guards (RDG) are mentoring Afghan police in war-torn Helmand Province, claimed valuable lessons could be learned from how the PSNI handles sensitive set-piece events such as the Twelfth.
He said: “There is a very clear parallel between what it is the Afghan Uniform Police are doing on a daily basis with what the PSNI do during the marching season. Although one is crowd control and one is counter- insurgency, the principals of planning and co-ordination are much the same.”
High-ranking Afghan police officers have already travelled to the UK to observe how police forces co-operate with other agencies.
However, Lt Colonel Piggott, 42, from London, who served several operational tours of duty in Northern Ireland, believes bringing them to Belfast would be beneficial.
He said: “There would be valuable lessons that have been hard-learned in Northern Ireland within a gold-standard headquarters like Knock (PSNI HQ) that would be of use to a developing police force such as the Afghan Uniform Police.
“Knock is stood up during the marching season. For the rest of the year it is a response cell whereas during the marching season all of the agencies are in and are co-operating together with a police lead to manage a security situation.
“When you transpose some of the bigger religious events here (Afghanistan) like Eid and Ashura where there is potential for security and disorder, the Operational Co-ordination Centre’s and particularly the one in the provincial headquarters (at Lashkar Gah) would benefit from seeing how those services work together.”
Lt Colonel Piggott is leading a unit of almost 500 soldiers from the Royal Dragoon Guards - 20% of whom are from Northern Ireland - based at a military operating base in Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.
They are part of the police mentoring and advisory group working with the fledgling Afghan force to develop their capability, confidence, authority and basic accountability.
They mentor some of the 11 units which make up the Afghan National Police including the uniformed officers, intelligence unit and riot squad.
Last autumn, PSNI officers flew to the RDG base at Catterick in North Yorkshire to host two training sessions for rank and file soldiers.
Lt Colonel Piggott added: “The military have certain skill sets which are transferable and that’s in essence to shoot, move and communicate. Where we are less skilled is the culture of policing. We are good at orders, we understand orders but it is the discretion that a policeman has that is not something that would necessarily come naturally to a soldier - unless he is a higher rank.
“Understanding Gendarmerie-style policing was something that the PSNI were particularly well versed in. They understood the military mindset as they themselves had delivered police mentoring in Iraq. They were very well positioned to provide us with what we needed to know.
“Some of the skills that we took away were firstly that shift in culture from military to police culture.
“We had to work in that area between the two with things like force protection; de-escalation - when there is potentially a threat to us and do not necessarily want to respond in a kinetic way; how to understand that there is danger in a situation from body language and that sort of thing which comes very naturally to the police but less so to us.”
Mentoring the Afghan Uniformed Police force is seen as key part of the military draw down.
Lt Colonel Piggott said he was confident his men had fulfilled their task.
He said: “I think we will leave a better trained police force. Most importantly we will leave a police force that is confident and capable of training itself. Our legacy will be very much about the long term. We have always looked not to the finish in 2014 but, beyond 2014. I think that’s what we leave a force that can survive and develop post ISAF (International Security Force Assistance).
“We will go back with a sense of a job well done. We have given them everything that we can and they have willingly taken it - that’s not kit - that’s training and a sense of confidence. I will leave very content that we as a regiment will achieve what we set out to achieve.”