WESH, Afghanistan – On the edge of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, ISAF and Afghan Border Police work to deter insurgents with high-tech technology and low-tech police work.
These Soldiers and ABP work in one of Afghanistan’s busiest border crossings, the end of Highway 4 in the city of Wesh, whose life blood is supporting truckers and other motorists as they cross. For the Soldiers of Mad Dog Company, Second Platoon, Fourth Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment, from Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany now based in Forward Operating Base Spin Buldak, the days are long with few chances to sleep and days off are an unknown luxury as they work to complete what is an important but monotonous job.
“It’s a very monotonous thing and it’s hard to see the fruits of our labor. We do good work but you don’t see that,” said 2nd Lt. James Herbert Fortune, 23, 2nd platoon commander from Fredericksburg, Va. “If we do a good job, we aren’t going to see weapons coming through the border and we aren’t going to see Taliban. They are going to be afraid to come through because they know we are going to catch them with the x-ray scan or biometrics.”
Each week they spend three to four days at the Wesh Border Crossing Point. At the BCP they collect census information and biometrics, including finger prints, retinal scans and identification photos from Afghans returning from Pakistan. The rest of the week they live in FOB Spin Buldak returning to Wesh usually to man the customs yard on the border and rarely to complete a variety of missions throughout the city including patrols, raids and manning checkpoints. At the customs yard they x-ray vehicle after vehicle crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The only satisfaction Fortune’s Soldiers get is the few times when they do find contraband or a suspected insurgent.
“This mission requires a lot of time and a lot of patience,” said Pfc. Nathan Lee Thompson, 19, from Yakima, Wash. “Our troop mission right now is mainly the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is securing the border while maintaining the flow of goods between Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the same time, we maintain security so that ammonium nitrate, suicide vests or anything of that matter that can hurt us or the population does not get from Pakistan to Afghanistan.”
Insurgents use this route to bring weapons, bomb making material including ammonium nitrate and detonation cord, as well as fresh fighters. The only time these trucks will be scanned is by 2nd Platoon’s soldiers who put pressure on what would be the insurgents most profitable resupply route.
“If you are a Taliban with any brains at all and you know ISAF are scanning trucks, you won’t use the route. If we can make it harder on them to resupply we will have done our job,” said Fortune. “They can still pack a donkey or truck and enter the border elsewhere but that would cost them significantly more time and resources. Instead of packing a truck and driving it to Kandahar, they have to go through dirt roads, wadis and they can’t bring anywhere near the amount of supplies.”
While the platoon checks commercial vehicles, the Afghan Border Police inspects personal vehicles and maintains the flow of traffic. The crossing is packed with people from children to the elderly; some on foot others on bicycle. Together they all cross the border alongside trucks and cars in what can only be described as controlled chaos. There aren’t any stop signs, traffic lights or discernible traffic patterns, only the hand signals from the ABP alongside Pakistani officials control traffic.
“Here we are out tangled with the people. Anyone can walk up to one of us and detonate a suicide vest killing us and the Afghan people around us,” said Spc. Joshua James Wolf from Wasilla, Alaska, on his first deployment to Afghanistan with two previous deployments to Iraq. “They drive cars right next to us. It’s a whole lot different from the beginning of Iraq and Afghanistan where they weren’t allowed near us. Now they work with us and intermingle with us. It helps because they trust us to an extent.”
The Spin Buldak district where Wesh is located is one of the few successes in southern Afghanistan. Here the population supports the police and their Coalition partners.
“Having people that do come forward, tell us where IED’s are and report suspicious activity not just by calling us but by coming up to our commander is something that has stuck with me,” said Thompson. “The actual population, not just the police, helping us clear their areas as well as the friendliness of the people saying hello, shaking your hand and appreciating what you are doing here makes you feel a lot better for being here.”
During their last stint at the BCP, 2nd Platoon scanned over 400 commercial vehicles and in one day collected biometrics on over 1000 Afghans crossing the border. Collecting biometrics supports the counterinsurgency strategy by helping to separate insurgents from the population, finger prints found on bombs or other insurgent materials are run against an ever growing database resulting in a suspect possibly being found in either the database or during the actual biometrics collection process itself.
“The ABP are the reason why Wesh is so safe. The ABP at the Border Crossing Point conduct random checkpoints two to three times a week and every single night patrol Wesh twice. I know ABP in other parts of the city do the same thing,” said Fortune. “Just the fact that they do these things keep insurgents from laying IED’s. They are scared to come out because the ABP and ANP are patrolling the city and will arrest them. These aren’t Coalition orders or ideas but total ABP initiative; we just ask if we can go along.”
Though it plays an important role, in the end it’s not the platoon’s use of high-tech equipment to fight insurgents that protects Wesh, it’s the ABP’s use of low-tech police work that keeps the city safe and the enemy on their heels.
Pfc. James Brewster, from Fairfax, Va., conducts surveillance before morning at the Wesh City Border Crossing Point. With support from Afghan Border Police, Mad Dog Second Platoon, Fourth Squadron, Second Stryker Combat Regiment is one of several platoons manning the customs yard, border crossing point and check points in one of Afghanistan busiest border crossing, the end of highway four in the city of Wesh whose life blood is supporting truckers and other motorists as they cross the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.
Afghan Border Policeman search vehicles at a random checkpoint in the city of Wesh on the Afghanistan Pakistan border. With support from Mad Dog Company, Second Platoon, Fourth Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment, the ABP mans the border crossing point and check points in one of Afghanistan busiest border crossing, the end of highway four in the city of Wesh whose life blood is supporting truckers and other motorists as they cross the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.