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Capt Sean Tyson Commands the 545th MP's who guard Al-Quida and Taliban detainees at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Pictured here on the road out side the detention facility, which cannot be photographed under Department of Defense rules.

(Above article and photo appeared in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper)


17 January 2002
'Positive control' is goal of MPs guarding al-Qaida suspects
By Jon R. Anderson,
Stars and Stripes European edition


BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Positive Control.

Those are the simple watchwords for a company of Army military police that has been tasked with guarding suspected al-Qaida fighters at a new transient prisoner camp at Bagram Airfield north of Kabul .

"Everything we do is about maintaining positive control," said Capt. Sean Tyson, who leads the 545th MP Company, part of the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood , Texas .

The facility, illuminated by generator-powered klieg lights and guarded night and day by the heavily armed MPs, serves as both an in-processing center and way station for the prisoners. Gradually, over recent weeks, the United States has begun taking custody of the prisoners from Afghan and Pakistani officials.

U.S. officials do not refer to the fighters as prisoners of war. Instead, they are called "detainees," a label that has generated some controversy.

Within a day or so of their arrival at Bagram, the detainees are sent to the southern city of Kandahar to await transport to the U.S. Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay , Cuba .

"We want them to understand very clearly that we are in charge and that as long as they follow the rules, everything will be fine," Tyson said.

It's a process, he explained, that starts as soon as the prisoners arrive.

And it's soldiers like Staff Sgt. Sean Conner who make sure the message is received loud and clear.

Toting a heavy, shoulder-high stick with a brass ammunition casing serving as its base, Conner admits it can be hard sometimes to suppress the anger he feels.

"Sure, it's a little upsetting when you look at them and think about what they might have been involved in," said Conner. "But this isn't a revenge thing for us, it's a professional thing. We're just here to do our mission."

A veteran of Somalia , where he had to perform a similar mission, Conner says this time around it's more personal.

"It hits home harder this time, especially when you think about the effects of Sept. 11 and all those people in New York , Pennsylvania and the Pentagon."

"I just try not to think about it," said Spc. Scott Pena. "If I did, I think it would drive me crazy."

Nicknamed the Hotel Concertina by the combat engineers who built it less than a month ago, the makeshift stockade occupies an old, war-scarred Soviet-era aircraft hanger. Tall coils of razor wire form holding pens for about 50 prisoners.

With memories still fresh of the prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharef last month that left one CIA agent dead and scores of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters killed or wounded, the MPs say they're doing everything they can to ensure the same thing doesn't happen here.

The shackled prisoners always arrive at night, under cover of darkness aboard C-130 cargo planes flying in from Afghan-run prisons throughout the country, as well as Pakistani detention facilities across the border.

"It's always in the hours of darkness — as much for their protection as anything else," said Tyson. "These people are considered bad guys as much by the Northern Alliance as they are by us and we have to ensure their safety."

The MPs also have to ensure their own safety, as well as the well-being of the hundreds of U.S. troops who use Bagram as a base of operations. Just down the runway from the detention hangar, for example, is a row of black MH-47E Chinook helicopters belonging to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The helicopters stand ready for nightly missions in support of Special Forces teams operating in Afghanistan .

That's why almost immediately after arriving, the prisoners are stripped naked and given a rectal exam.

It was hidden grenades, knives and other weapons, that fueled the uprising in Mazar.

"What happened there is always in the back of your mind," said Tyson. "It's the kind of thing that really helps you keep from getting complacent."

Although he said his contingent has not yet received a formal briefing on the uprising, "we've been told enough to help make sure this doesn't turn into the same situation."

The strip search also serves more psychological purposes as well.

"It's really demoralizing for them," Tyson said. In addition to losing their clothes and whatever private possessions they may have, "they are stripped of their identity as a group. You can see the transformation on their faces."

Seeing the human face of the enemy can be disconcerting for some soldiers, said Tyson, who says he must guard against a kind of reverse Stockholm Syndrome among his troops. The syndrome is a phenomenon in which a hostage or prisoner, over time, begins to sympathize with his or her captor.

"The in-processing can be demoralizing for the soldiers, too. Many of these detainees can speak English, and the soldiers can't help but get to know them a little," he said.

"As individuals, away from their groups, some of these guys seem like normal people."

To help ensure his soldiers keep their edge, Tyson keeps the guards on 12-hour shifts, separated by a full 24 hours off.

Issued a new set of clothes and a blanket, the prisoners also are interrogated by military intelligence agents as officials continue the on-going effort to piece together Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

During their entire stay at Bagram, the prisoners' hands and feet remain bound by hard plastic shackles. The "flexi cuffs," as the troops call them, give just enough room for the prisoners to shuffle around and feed themselves.

Meals are similar to the same field rations the troops eat, but exclude pork or anything inappropriate to Muslims.

Although the prisoners are allowed to perform the ritualistic prayers of Islam, they are not permitted to talk or even look at each other.

"They are allowed to pray and eat. That's it," said Pena, the specialist. If a prisoner needs to relieve himself, they are instructed to simply raise their bound hands over their head. A pair of MPs then escorts the prisoner to a plywood shack used as an outhouse beside the hangar.

"Sometimes," says 19-year-old Pfc. Amanda Aragon, one of the youngest guards, "one of the prisoners will try and eyeball me, like they're trying to stare me down. I just eyeball them back."

If they harbor any illusions that they can break the no-looking-around rule, because Aragon is a woman, she corrects them quickly. "If I need to get in their face, I do, but usually they figure it out."




On 14 November 2001, the 5th Platoon, 545th Military Police Company deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait in support of Task Force BLACKJACK THUNDER, Operation DESERT SPRING 03-01.  While undergoing their training exercises, on 15 December they were redeployed and assigned to HQ-ARCENT located at Bagram, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  The Afghan Military Forces (AMF) was holding up to 4,500 detainees throughout the Coalition Joint Operational Area (CJOA) Afghanistan who required interrogation and documentation of Personal Identification Data (PID).

The purpose of collecting PID is to create a better database for identifying potential enemy threats and to screen these individuals to determine if they meet the criteria to be treated as detainees.  If an individual meets the specified criteria, they are taken into custody in a detainee status and secured for further processing.

In their new assignment in Afghanistan, the 545th Military Police Platoon collected Personal Identification Data (PID) on potential Taliban and al-Qaeda members in an effort to identify America’s newest enemies.  In their role that covered the collection of personnel data, the security of detainees during the operations, and subsequent aerial escort missions back to the collection points, the 545th Military Police Platoon proved to be a true combat multiplier in Afghanistan.

On 11 February, the Platoon, their operations in Afghanistan completed, returned to Kuwait and continued their training and support of Task Force Blackjack and then returned in April to the United States.



                                                                IN QUOTES                                                                          



          CPT. Sean Tyson Commander of the 545th MP Company from Ft Hood, Texas speaking of living condition for detainees at Bagram Airbase near Kabul, Afghanistan.


First Cavalry MP's from Fort Hood Texas, are guarding about 50 suspected Al-Queda fighters at a new detention facility in Bagram Airbase, near Kabul, Afghanistan. The camp is used as an in-processing center and way station for prisoners being shipped to Kandahar and eventually to a prison on the US Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

(Above articles and photo's appeared in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper)




Sam Reinert
545th Military Police Company Association
626 1/2 South 9th Street
Richmond, Indiana 47374 USA
(765) 962 4627 phone & FAX