Kabul’s Panopticon

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http://Kabul,%20%20Afghanistan's%20capital%20city,%20sits%20in%20a%20valley%20in%20the%20Hindu%20Kush%20Mountains.%20Its%20metro%20area%20covers%20164%20square%20miles,%20and%20its%20%20infrastructure%20--%20from%20roads%20to%20electricity%20to%20water%20services%20--%20has%20struggled%20%20to%20keep%20pace%20with%20the%20city's%20rising%20population,%20which%20has%20grown%20from%20half%20a%20%20million%20(at%20the%20time%20of%20the%20American%20occupation%20in%202001)%20to%20between%203%20and%204%20%20million%20today.%20The%20withdrawal%20of%20U.S.%20troops%20and%20the%20reduction%20of%20foreign%20aid%20%20have%20led%20both%20Afghans%20and%20the%20international%20community%20to%20question%20the%20readiness%20%20of%20Kabul's%20security%20forces%20to%20protect%20the%20city.%20Since%20the%20first%20round%20of%20%20elections%20in%20April%202014,%20separate%20attacks%20--%20against%20a%20local%20NGO,%20a%20luxury%20%20hotel%20catering%20to%20foreigners,%20a%20bus%20of%20Afghan%20National%20Army%20soldiers,%20and%20the%20%20convoy%20of%20presidential%20candidate%20Abdullah%20Abdullah%20--%20have%20revealed%20the%20Taliban's%20%20ability%20to%20coordinate%20strikes%20in%20and%20around%20the%20capital.%20The%20Kabul%20police,%20%20however,%20insist%20that%20they%20have%20prevented%20many%20more%20attacks%20than%20are%20reported%20to%20%20the%20public.%20%20%20%20%20%20In%20%20late%20June,%20writer%20and%20photographer%20Deni%20Béchard%20accompanied%20U.S.%20Army%20advisor%20Lieutenant%20%20Colonel%20Ted%20Pelzel%20on%20a%20rare%20tour%20of%20%20the%20Kabul%20police%20surveillance%20%20center,%20including%20a%20close%20look%20at%20the%20very%20systems%20they%20use%20to%20prevent%20attacks%20in%20the%20%20capital%20city.%20The%20multi-million%20dollar%20surveillance%20system,%20which%20has%20been%20operational%20%20for%20roughly%20four%20and%20a%20half%20years,%20provides%20a%20dramatically%20different%20view%20of%20the%20%20Kabul%20police%20(who%20have%20been%20criticized%20for%20incompetence%20and%20corruption)%20at%20work.%20The%20system%20has%20been%20expanding%20and,%20over%20the%20past%20three%20%20years,%20it%20has%20grown%20to%20more%20than%2060%20screens%20that%20allow%20the%20KSS%20(Kabul%20Security%20%20System)%20Team,%20a%20group%20of%20specially%20trained%20Afghan%20police%20officers,%20to%20monitor%20108%20high%20%20resolution%20camera%20feeds%20around%20the%20city%2024%20hours%20a%20day.%20Most%20of%20the%20%20cameras%20are%20positioned%20on%20rooftops,%20and%20one%20even%20sits%20on%20a%20blimp%20that%20floats%20%20above%20the%20city.%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20police%20officers%20search%20through%20footage%20from%20these%20camera%20feeds,%20closely%20examining%20the%20streets,%20as%20they%20look%20to%20see%20%20where%20the%20demonstrators%20are%20gathering.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city, sits in a valley in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Its metro area covers 164 square miles, and its infrastructure -- from roads to electricity to water services -- has struggled to keep pace with the city's rising population, which has grown from half a million (at the time of the American occupation in 2001) to between 3 and 4 million today. The withdrawal of U.S. troops and the reduction of foreign aid have led both Afghans and the international community to question the readiness of Kabul's security forces to protect the city. Since the first round of elections in April 2014, separate attacks -- against a local NGO, a luxury hotel catering to foreigners, a bus of Afghan National Army soldiers, and the convoy of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah -- have revealed the Taliban's ability to coordinate strikes in and around the capital. The Kabul police, however, insist that they have prevented many more attacks than are reported to the public.

In late June, writer and photographer Deni Béchard accompanied U.S. Army advisor Lieutenant Colonel Ted Pelzel on a rare tour of the Kabul police surveillance center, including a close look at the very systems they use to prevent attacks in the capital city. The multi-million dollar surveillance system, which has been operational for roughly four and a half years, provides a dramatically different view of the Kabul police (who have been criticized for incompetence and corruption) at work. The system has been expanding and, over the past three years, it has grown to more than 60 screens that allow the KSS (Kabul Security System) Team, a group of specially trained Afghan police officers, to monitor 108 high resolution camera feeds around the city 24 hours a day. Most of the cameras are positioned on rooftops, and one even sits on a blimp that floats above the city.

Above, police officers search through footage from these camera feeds, closely examining the streets, as they look to see where the demonstrators are gathering.

Deni Béchard

http://Police%20officers%20inside%20the%20headquarters%20compound%20prepare%20to%20monitor%20and%20direct%20street%20%20demonstrations%20by%20the%20supporters%20of%20presidential%20candidate%20Abdullah%20Abdullah.%20%20Whereas%20Kabul%20province%20has%20only%204,000%20Afghan%20National%20Army%20soldiers,%20the%20Kabul%20police%20force%20has%20%20between%2014,000%20and%2015,000%20officers.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

Police officers inside the headquarters compound prepare to monitor and direct street demonstrations by the supporters of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah. Whereas Kabul province has only 4,000 Afghan National Army soldiers, the Kabul police force has between 14,000 and 15,000 officers.

Deni Béchard

http://Perched%20above%20the%20police%20headquarters%20compound,%20an%20officer%20watches%20the%20neighborhood%20below.%20In%20the%20courtyard,%20a%20%20police%20officer%20lounges%20in%20a%20chair%20in%20the%20shade,%20talking%20on%20a%20mobile%20phone.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

Perched above the police headquarters compound, an officer watches the neighborhood below. In the courtyard, a police officer lounges in a chair in the shade, talking on a mobile phone.

Deni Béchard

http://Inside%20police%20headquarters,%20an%20officer%20surveys%20the%20street%20for%20the%20arrival%20of%20%20demonstrators%20supporting%20presidential%20candidate%20Abdullah%20Abdullah.%20They%20will%20%20be%20protesting%20alleged%20voting%20fraud%20by%20supporters%20of%20presidential%20candidate%20%20Ashraf%20Ghani.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

Inside police headquarters, an officer surveys the street for the arrival of demonstrators supporting presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah. They will be protesting alleged voting fraud by supporters of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani.

Deni Béchard

http://A%20%20hallway%20in%20the%20Kabul%20police%20station%20belies%20the%20high-tech%20monitoring%20operation%20being%20conducted%20inside;%20the%20walls%20are%20scuffed%20and%20linoleum%20floor%20%20is%20peeling.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

A hallway in the Kabul police station belies the high-tech monitoring operation being conducted inside; the walls are scuffed and linoleum floor is peeling.

Deni Béchard

http://A%20%20semi-circle%20of%20LCD%20screens%20allows%20the%20police%20to%20examine%20108%20camera%20feeds%20in%20%20Kabul.%20Over%20the%20next%20six%20months,%20full%20maintenance%20of%20the%20surveillance%20system%20%20will%20be%20transitioned%20from%20the%20care%20of%20security%20contractors%20to%20the%20Kabul%20police.%20%20Maintenance%20of%20the%20cameras%20alone%20costs%20$2%20million%20a%20year,%20and%20now%20that%20%20Afghanistan%20is%20receiving%20less%20foreign%20aid,%20the%20police%20are%20looking%20for%20ways%20to%20%20manage%20the%20cost.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

A semi-circle of LCD screens allows the police to examine 108 camera feeds in Kabul. Over the next six months, full maintenance of the surveillance system will be transitioned from the care of security contractors to the Kabul police. Maintenance of the cameras alone costs $2 million a year, and now that Afghanistan is receiving less foreign aid, the police are looking for ways to manage the cost.

Deni Béchard

http://The%20%20cameras%20allow%20police%20to%20pan%20over%20the%20city%20and%20zoom%20in%20on%20demonstrators%20gathering%20in%20the%20streets.%20%20They%20are%20so%20precise%20that%20the%20police%20can%20read%20banners%20and%20even%20license%20%20plates.%20In%20the%20past,%20they%20have%20used%20the%20cameras%20to%20track%20insurgents'%20vehicles.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

The cameras allow police to pan over the city and zoom in on demonstrators gathering in the streets. They are so precise that the police can read banners and even license plates. In the past, they have used the cameras to track insurgents' vehicles.

Deni Béchard

http://In%20order%20to%20show%20exactly%20how%20the%20surveillance%20system%20is%20used%20to%20assess%20threats,%20the%20police%20play%20%20a%20video%20feed%20from%202013.%20As%20the%20footage%20plays%20(as%20seen%20in%20multiple%20shots%20above)%20it%20shows%20a%20suicide%20bomber%20attack%20on%20the%20headquarters%20of%20the%20Kabul%20traffic%20department%20--%20from%20the%20initial%20explosion%20to%20the%20immediate%20aftermath%20as%20flames%20and%20smoke%20rise%20from%20the%20left%20side%20of%20the%20building.%20%20Immediately%20after%20the%20attack,%20people%20fled%20the%20streets.%20As%20a%20police%20convoy%20was%20%20approaching%20the%20location%20of%20the%20blast,%20the%20surveillance%20team%20noticed%20a%20white%20car%20on%20the%20right%20side%20of%20the%20image%20that%20hadn't%20left%20the%20scene.%20Considering%20the%20white%20vehicle%20a%20threat,%20they%20ordered%20the%20%20police%20convoy%20to%20take%20a%20different%20route.%20At%20the%20moment%20when%20the%20convoy%20would%20have%20driven%20past%20the%20suspicious%20vehicle,%20the%20white%20car%20exploded.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

In order to show exactly how the surveillance system is used to assess threats, the police play a video feed from 2013. As the footage plays (as seen in multiple shots above) it shows a suicide bomber attack on the headquarters of the Kabul traffic department -- from the initial explosion to the immediate aftermath as flames and smoke rise from the left side of the building. Immediately after the attack, people fled the streets. As a police convoy was approaching the location of the blast, the surveillance team noticed a white car on the right side of the image that hadn't left the scene. Considering the white vehicle a threat, they ordered the police convoy to take a different route. At the moment when the convoy would have driven past the suspicious vehicle, the white car exploded.

Deni Béchard

http://According%20%20to%20Colonel%20Dilaqa,%20who%20leads%20the%20KSS%20Team,%20the%20surveillance%20system%20has%20helped%20reform%20the%20Kabul%20police.%20Commanders%20use%20it%20to%20verify%20that%20%20checkpoints%20are%20manned%20properly%20and%20to%20ensure%20that%20the%20on-duty%20officers%20are%20not%20taking%20bribes%20or%20%20involved%20in%20drug%20trafficking.%20Many%20police%20officers%20have%20been%20incarcerated%20as%20a%20result,%20%20and%20now%20that%20the%20police%20know%20they%20are%20watched,%20Dilaqa%20says,%20they%20are%20more%20rigorous%20in%20their%20%20duties.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

According to Colonel Dilaqa, who leads the KSS Team, the surveillance system has helped reform the Kabul police. Commanders use it to verify that checkpoints are manned properly and to ensure that the on-duty officers are not taking bribes or involved in drug trafficking. Many police officers have been incarcerated as a result, and now that the police know they are watched, Dilaqa says, they are more rigorous in their duties.

Deni Béchard

http://Major%20%20General%20Zahir%20Zahir,%20commander%20of%20the%20Kabul%20City%20Police,%20stands%20in%20front%20of%20a%20%20map%20of%20Kabul,%20explaining%20the%20different%20areas%20of%20the%20city%20and%20how%20they%20are%20%20monitored.%20Zahir%20has%20been%20commander%20for%20two%20years%20and,%20during%20that%20time,%20he's%20earned%20a%20reputation%20for%20cracking%20down%20on%20corruption%20and%20%20kidnappings%20of%20wealthy%20Afghans.%20Not%20long%20after%20being%20promoted,%20he%20led%20a%20team%20that%20captured%20one%20of%20%20Afghanistan's%20most%20wanted%20criminals,%20Habib%20Istalif,%20the%20head%20of%20an%20organized%20crime%20ring%20who%20has%20since%20been%20sentenced%20to%20death.%20Even%20as%20%20demonstrators%20pass%20outside%20the%20police%20station%20to%20protest%20election%20fraud,%20they%20shout,%20"Long%20live%20General%20Zahir"%20to%20show%20their%20%20respect.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

Major General Zahir Zahir, commander of the Kabul City Police, stands in front of a map of Kabul, explaining the different areas of the city and how they are monitored. Zahir has been commander for two years and, during that time, he's earned a reputation for cracking down on corruption and kidnappings of wealthy Afghans. Not long after being promoted, he led a team that captured one of Afghanistan's most wanted criminals, Habib Istalif, the head of an organized crime ring who has since been sentenced to death. Even as demonstrators pass outside the police station to protest election fraud, they shout, "Long live General Zahir" to show their respect.

Deni Béchard

http://In%20%20General%20Zahir's%20waiting%20room,%20the%20police%20watch%20the%20demonstrations%20on%20television.%20Video%20%20feeds%20are%20active%20even%20here,%20as%20Lt.%20Col.%20Pelzel%20sits%20with%20his%20counterparts%20in%20the%20%20police%20force.%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20%20Béchard

In General Zahir's waiting room, the police watch the demonstrations on television. Video feeds are active even here, as Lt. Col. Pelzel sits with his counterparts in the police force.

Deni Béchard

http://Lt.%20Col.%20Pelzel%20drives%20into%20the%20police%20station.%20To%20avoid%20drawing%20attention%20during%20the%20demonstrations,%20he%20is%20wearing%20civilian%20clothing%20--%20an%20Afghan%20scarf%20and%20a%20pakora%20hat.%20Though%20the%20withdrawal%20of%20U.S.%20troops%20has%20led%20many%20to%20question%20Kabul's%20security%20forces%20and%20their%20ability%20to%20protect%20the%20city,%20U.S.%20partner%20forces%20are%20eager%20to%20show%20that%20the%20local%20police%20have%20Kabul%20under%20control. %20%20%20%20%20%20%20Deni%20Béchard

Lt. Col. Pelzel drives into the police station. To avoid drawing attention during the demonstrations, he is wearing civilian clothing -- an Afghan scarf and a pakora hat. Though the withdrawal of U.S. troops has led many to question Kabul's security forces and their ability to protect the city, U.S. partner forces are eager to show that the local police have Kabul under control. 

Deni Béchard

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