When Lt.-Col. Kevin Tyler came to Afghanistan in 2008 to try to build a professional police force in Afghanistan, he was basically starting from scratch.
The payscale for cops at the time was below even the Afghan poverty line, corruption was widespread, and there were no basic training programs for officers.
"The actual pay rates when I first went there were $130 per month, and they would often go for months without getting paid," said Tyler, the commanding officer of the Rocky Mountain Rangers regiment based in Kamloops and Prince George.
"The police don't normally make enough to feed their families, so if they see an SUV they might decide to tax them $20 to get past a checkpoint. There was a degree of tolerance among the populace as long as the police were doing their job in keeping the insurgents from being active in the area."
Western nations, mostly the U.S., are now subsidizing Afghanistan to the tune to $3 billion per year, which pays the police their salaries, weapons, food, gas and covers all operations and maintenance costs. Afghan police officers now make about $200 US per month in a country where a minimum of $180 per month is needed to keep a small family clothed, housed and fed.
"The police are the second cousin to the army in Afghanistan and the development of the army started shortly after 9/11 when we pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan," said Tyler. "There were resources to professionalize the army but it didn't start with the police until 2007.
"The whole aim with developing Afghanistan as a country is to build the institutions and the legitimate economy [mainly agriculture and textiles] to the point where it overcomes the drug-based economy. I think progress has been made with all the foreign aid money that's come in the last seven or eight years. Whether or not it will be enough to make changes as the Americans leave, time will tell."
Tyler, who has also served in Bosnia during his 32-year military career, was in Prince George Thursday night at the New Caledonia Makers of History event and spoke about his efforts as the senior staff officer to professionalize the Afghan police.
"The Afghanistan war has been one of our longest, most significant military force commitments and it hasn't been a peacekeeping role, it's been a military support combat-fighting role and we've had casualties," said CNC history instructor Sheldon Clare. "People want to know why we were in Afghanistan."
The war in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of three people with Prince George connections. Cpl. Matthew McCully, 25, a native of Ontario whose father Ron lives in the city, was killed when he stepped on an improvised explosive device on May 25, 2007 in the Zhari district of Kanadhar; Michelle Lang, 34, a former Prince George Free Press reporter, died in a roadside bombing Dec. 30, 2009; and Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick, 21, died of his injuries on March 20, 2010, two weeks after being injured in a bomb blast while on foot patrol in Kandahar province.
"I lost a few friends," said Tyler. "Every time you went outside the wire travelling from A to B you have to be ready for something that might happen, and sometimes it did.
"I think after all of Canada's efforts in Afghanistan and the money spent and all the lives that were lost, I'm optimistic Afghanistan will move forward and actually become a stable country once the Western armies leave."
Canada still has about 900 troops stationed in Kabul, mainly involved in mentoring activities, teaching in federal schools. Tyler spent considerable time breaking down barriers and building rapport with the police chiefs to encourage more Afghans to sign up for police training.
"There was a degree of mistrust and we spent enough time meeting the chiefs of police and getting to know them and getting them to trust us as a fellow professional," said Tyler, who spent 14 months in Afghanistan during 2008 and 2009. "In those kind of jobs where you're mentoring and working with locals, if you're not there long enough, from their perspective you're not dedicated and you can't be credible with them.
"Before [Canada] went in there it was a horrible place for the average citizen. The Taliban were ruling the country and they had Sharia law. They were using sports fields to do public executions and there was no education for women or girls, and that's improved now. But who knows what can happen? The main thing is it's unlikely ever to become a base for the Taliban again."