Lt Matt Galante is an officer in The 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. He commands a Police Advisory Team (PAT) in Southern Nahr-e-Saraj district, Helmand province. This is Matt’s second tour of Afghanistan.
I thought I would use blog number two as a chance to explain where I am currently living and what my day to day routine is – needless to say it’s a pretty big shift from my university days in Leeds or my current ‘home’ in Paderborn, Germany.
My team of 16 are based in the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) station in Paind Kalay, a village in the centre of Nahr-e-Saraj district, Helmand province. The ‘Kalay’ (Pashtun for ‘village’) is sandwiched between the river Helmand and the Nahr-e-Bugra canal, with an open desert to the North that provides a home for nomadic tribes – and an enormous amount of camels.
Paind Kalay is a maze of mud compounds, hardened by years of blazing sun, and is mostly inhabited by cheeky kids and old farmers with prune-like skin and about ten teeth between the whole community. The farmers tend to their crops in irrigated fields to our South, which makes up the now-infamous Green Zone: a jungle of dense trees and head-high cornfields which make movement an exhausting prospect. The insurgents know that our surveillance systems can’t pick up a lone gunman or IED-layer in the middle of a 10-foot high maize field, so this is where we tend to find the majority of our trouble.
The police station itself is relative luxury in comparison to most of the Kalay. It is one of only two concrete buildings in about 20 square KM, and in typical squaddie resourcefulness it now boasts a well-stocked gym, a temperamental Afghan generator which powers a fridge, a gas stove and a dart board! My team live on one side of the compound, and on the other lives our colleagues for the tour: the AUP.
Paind Kalay police station is the headquarters for the AUP in our area, and is headed up by the charismatic and highly regarded Lieutenant Mohammad Wali. “Moz Waz” (as he is affectionately known) is somewhat of a local celebrity due to his work in creating a secure environment free from corruption and Taliban influence.
He is only in his late twenties but holds considerable sway among the local Elders and Mullahs, who all respect the good work he has done. Moz Waz is an affable chap, sometimes a little shy and bemused by all the interest in his work, and he has an amusingly short attention span, but he is a fantastic ambassador for the AUP in the area and will do anything for the men under his command.
The men in question are some 100 patrolmen from the local area, working and living in 11 checkpoints across a 10km stretch. These checkpoints vary in size, location and construction, but all are the ‘front line’ in the battle for security in Nahr-e-Saraj – a battle they are fortunately winning. The AUP in these checkpoints are largely a great bunch, all extremely welcoming of the British and united in their battle for what they see as their own homes and villages. There are some real characters in these checkpoints, and very few visits to these locations pass without plenty of ‘Chai’ (Afghan tea) and laughter.
So where do me and my team fit in? Well, our task as part of the Police Mentoring Advisory Group – or PMAG – is to act as the first line of ISAF support for these checkpoints. We visit each location to teach policing and soldiering skills, help solve any issues they may have, and join them on joint patrols around their Kalays. Our tour is still in its infancy, but I have been genuinely impressed with some of the AUP we have worked with so far – not least because of the amount of brews and food they seem to be throwing my way when we visit! There are few better feelings than getting to a checkpoint after a long patrol with heavy kit to have a pot of Chai waiting for you. Well, a beer would be nicer but that will have to wait until post-tour leave.
I’ll try to talk about some of our patrols and the characters we meet in my next update – in the meantime I’ve got some sleep to catch up on…