Drugs, alcohol and grenades: Customs at Kandahar

22nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Opening a locked cabinet at Kandahar Airport, British Military Police Sergeant Kris Gaertner shows off a day's haul of contraband.

There are nine high-explosive grenades, a smoke grenade, a stun grenade, an assortment of wicked-looking knives and knuckle dusters, and a lone bottle of Bordeaux wine.

Gaertner is security commander for the military side of Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan and the weapons and alcohol have been confiscated from troops and Afghans passing through.

Dealing with 1,000 passengers a day and short of staff, Gaertner said he had the idea of seconding Afghan police to help out.

"We were really struggling for manpower here, so I came up with the idea why don't we try and get some Afghan border police over here in a mentoring way.

"One, we'll get a bit more manpower, and two, it'll be better for them to come over here and see how it is and be more busy than they are over there standing on a doorway watching an empty terminal," he told AFP.

His superiors agreed and following negotiations with an Afghan colonel, the police arrived around the end of May.

Gaertner now has six Afghan border police working alongside him and is hoping for four more before his tour is up.

The Afghans take control of security checks when local army, police or civilians come through.

"We'll only step in if we feel like things are getting out of hand, like maybe if an Afghan general comes through and doesn't want to be searched," Gaertner said.

"Sometimes the Afghan border police think that if they tell a colonel what to do, then they'll get in trouble so that's when we'll step in sometimes.

"That's what we try to teach them, that they can't bow down to rank. And they are getting there.

"I've seen it a couple of times now when they'll send them back and say 'empty your pockets.' The officers don't like being told what to do by a sergeant, but that's the procedure really," he said.

Sergeant Mehood, 24, said he enjoyed the searching.

"Yes it's good here," compared to the Afghan side, which he said was much quieter.

"He's one of the more confident ones. He doesn't bow down to anybody, he'll send them back and he'll let them know who's in charge," said Gaertner.

Manning the X-ray machine, Lieutenant Mortaza Shairzad spotted a utility knife blade hidden in the wallet of a man trying to board an aircraft.

Gaertner said they were also finding quite a bit of hashish and other drugs. Another problem was unauthorised ammunition, with many soldiers unaware of the security regulations regarding loaded weapons.

"They don't get told they can't take it on the plane," he said.

"It's quite stressful at times when you get a few grenades coming through."

Ben, a 19-month-old labrador-springer spaniel cross, sniffs passengers' baggage and has proven unexpectedly popular in a country not known for its love of canines.

"Because we're an international airport, especially going to civilian airports like Dubai and Kuwait and Turkey, I have to try to keep this to the regulations as an international airport as much as I can," Gaertner said.

"It works and we've had no feedback from Dubai to say people are getting through there with contraband or anything, and from what I've gathered they're pretty strict in Dubai, so if anything was getting through we'd know about it."

British Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, commander of Kandahar Airfield, said the trial with the Afghan border police had "proved very effective".

"It's for us to be more open. The Afghans tend to suspect we're up to things when we're not, so this has made it very transparent for them that we're not doing anything illegal. It's really helped with the trust between the two.

"They see how we take away alcohol if people come in with alcohol, how we deal with the people. It's also good training for them because they're just learning to deal with the customs side as well, so it's something that's developing a good partnership where both sides get benefit.

"The benefit I get is I'm short-staffed. I've been delighted with it."

But in one area Gaertner said the Afghans had proven a bit reluctant.

"They're a bit hesitant about going to the gym, but I'm trying."

© 2010 AFP

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