Afghan Presidential Bodyguards Graduate
Jan. 16, 2003
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Khawaja Mohammad Siddiqi says he would readily take a bullet for his country's leader, a man who governs his fractious nation with only tenuous authority.
As a bodyguard to President Hamid Karzai, sacrifice is a professional obligation, said Siddiqi. He was among the first 52 agents of the Afghan Presidential Protective Service to graduate Thursday from a basic training course run by the U.S. Diplomatic Security Bureau's Anti-Terrorism Assistance department.
On Feb. 1, Siddiqi and his former classmates will begin working alongside U.S. agents who now protect Karzai. Later this year, when they have completed on-the-job training, they will take over from the Americans altogether.
The job ``is bigger than just the life of a president. We are prepared to sacrifice ourselves for our country, for our nation and for our people,'' said Siddiqi, 30, a Kabul native and ethnic Tajik.
But, he adds, it's also a commitment to the idea of an Afghan nation that rises above ethnic and tribal loyalties _ an idea that Afghanistan's government and its U.S. backers are eager to nurture.
It could be a dangerous job.
Karzai, elected to an 18-month term as interim president last summer, faces an array of ruthless domestic political rivals and foreign terrorists intent on destabilizing the country.
Last September, he narrowly escaped death when a would-be assassin shot into his car, just missing the president before being gunned down by guards from the U.S. military's special forces units. An Afghan guard and a bystander were killed.
U.S. officials see Afghans taking responsibility for their country's security a step toward nation-building _ cementing the Afghan national identity after 23 years of near-constant warfare.
``With this event, the Afghans come one step closer to revitalizing all their national institutions, to exercising both the symbols and the reality of national sovereignty destroyed by war, communist occupation and tyranny,'' U.S. Ambassador Robert P. Finn said in an address to graduates.
Recruits were selected from among 500 candidates drawn from all parts of Afghanistan and include members of all five of its main ethnic groups.
Training included standard techniques, but was also adapted to Afghanistan's conditions. Agents weren't instructed in securing elevators because Afghanistan has almost none. However, land mine avoidance _ something not usually taught in other countries _ was stressed because Afghanistan is strewn with the deadly devices.
Agents will be armed with pistols and submachine guns left them by the Americans and will be paid about $300 a month _ a decent wage by Afghan standards.
The agents have come ``a long way'' and their morale is high, said Mike Smith, one of the trainers.
``I would put them up against any from the other countries that I've trained, even from those that began with a lot more,'' he said.