In the UK we are told from a young age that a man in a uniform is someone to instinctively trust. They are someone to go to if you find yourself in trouble, or lost, or without hope. The situation in Kabul cannot be more different. This teeming, bustling city of at least 5 million is home to thousands of Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army (ANA) and countless NATO troops.
Overall, it should be said, the ANA and ANP are doing a sterling job in what are very difficult circumstances. How many cops in the West would be willing to be on the front line, on a daily basis, in stopping not just criminal activity but also anti-government terrorists? Fair do’s to the guys out there trying their best to uphold law and order but this country must be one of the world's most dangerous places to fight crime.
As the US has pulled back from day to day management of the city Kabul is now managed by ANP and ANA patrols and roadblocks that litter the city. Distinguishing between these two groups is the first challenge for the uninitiated as the ANP have been created as a form of quasi-military force: “Bobbies on the Beat” they ain’t.
The most challenging and problematic element, however, is the use of uniforms (both ANA and ANP) by criminals and anti-government insurgents. Over the last year or so a number of terrorist activities have been carried out by men dressed in stolen or illegally acquired uniforms.
In one famous event, at a UN guest house, all four suicide attackers were dressed in this official garb. When an attacker jumped on the back wall to attack the foreigners that were hiding the only armed civilian told me that he had to withhold his fire until the attacker pointed his gun directly at them and he was sure he was definitely not an officer. You do not want to be shooting an official of the state unless you want to spend time in Kabul jail.
Only last week an insurgent dressed in an ANA uniform approached a NATO team parked at Kabul International Airport and initiated a Body-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (or BBIED as the acronym so vaguely puts it) that killed one and wounded six. Once again this activity highlights the fact that ANA and ANP uniforms are readily available for a fee and that when that man comes walking to you looking officious your trust should be far from absolute.