Anyone following the events in Bahrain will be aware of the sheer volume of photos and videos uploaded daily by activists. Most of these tend to portray encounters with the riot police or the subsequent aftermath. Given that most of this media is taken by protesters using their mobiles, it tends to offer a view from their perspective. There tends to be very little documented about the lives of riot police – for obvious reasons, not least due for purposes of security, but also because they tend not to be the ones documenting their repression in order to draw attention to their plight. (They have the National Media for that).
Today was a little different though, because someone leaked the photos and media from a mobile phone, which was allegedly dropped by a ’mercenary’ (they might also have been just taken from a facebook account, though this is perhaps unlikely ). For the uninitiated, mercenary is often a term used to describe Bahrain’s riot police . The photos have caused considerable controversy, mainly because they appear to show a member of the police hanging out in a training environment with US Marines. This has naturally led to the assumption that the US Marines are training Bahrain’s riot police (officially known as Special Security Force Command/ SSFC). But is this true?
Well, the photos of the policemen hanging out with the US troops seem to have been taken between the 8th and 16th December 2011. This is assuming the dates included in the photo file names are accurate. Regarding the facility location; in this photo you can see ‘Special Security’ written in the background and in this photo you can see ‘Special Security Force Command’ written on the officer’s uniform (the latter photo was taken in November). There are also number of photos showing a young officer holding an M4/M4A1 rifle whilst in the presence of US troops. One photo shows him with the same weapon sitting outside an armoured car. There is separate evidence of riot police carrying the M4/M4A1 during the crackdown (via @billmarczak), suggesting that at least some of the riot officers must be trained in its use. Incidentally, the officer whose phone it appears to be, and who is pictured holding the M4/M4A1, wears fatigues saying ‘police’. At other times, when patrolling the streets in the ubiquitous riot police jeeps, the same officer appears to be wearing the more familiar blue overalls with a red beret or riot helmet.
Considering the dates on which the photos were taken, it would seem that all the interaction with the marines took place when Special Security Force Command 2 were in Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan providing security for the base (via @chanadbh) . It would seem that SSFC 2 had been in Afghanistan since May, and were being replaced by another unit of Bahraini police named SSFC3 – which also suggests that this process is an ongoing commitment. According to this article, the SSFC received training from US marines to help with ’base security’. Not entirely sure what that means, though I imagine in Afghanistan base security doesn’t just involve wielding a large board with a nail in it. Judging from the photos, it would hardly be surprising if the SSFC received arms training whilst at Camp Leatherneck. Oddly enough, the SSFC were defintely training the US military in how to use a baton! As for the military fatigues they are wearing, check out this video of the SSFC’s award ceremony in Afghanistan (via @chanadbh).
Although it is not news that Bahrain’s military receive training from the US military, it is interesting to see that the US military have been involved in training Bahrain’s riot police. As it stands, the main purpose for the SSFC visiting Afghanistan is to provide base security, yet for them to perform this role they have to undergo an unspeficied type of training. These officers then return to Bahrain to continue their work with the riot police (Indeed, the video footage of the officer in his blue riot police uniform who had been holding the rifle with the marines was filmed after the trip to Afghanistan). Irrespective of the type of training that takes place, there is clearly a certain degree of militarisation among Bahrain’s police, which perhaps explains why a Bahrain contingent participated in operation Urban Shield 2011 in the US . Furthermore, there’s a cost to all this, and according to this wikileak document it was 10 million dollars to prepare the SSFC group for the operation. It was also mentioned that there would be four consecutive six-month deployments. Given that the article was written in December 2009, it is possible that the contract has been renewed, as over 24 months have passed and the SSFC are still in Afghanistan (v @JohnHorneUK ). If each unit deployed requires the same training, that’s a potential cost of 20 million dollars a year.
On a less serious note, it is refreshing to see the security forces, who are so often depicted in a violent context, as human beings. This video in particular is quite funny, and appears show one of the policeman playing the oud whilst everyone else gets merrily drunk on vodka. 7aram.
This video seems to show the officer seeing how fast he can accelerate.
Note. All the photos and videos on the phone were taken between October 2011 and January 2012.
Interestingly, the original site onto which these photos were leaked appeared to have been taken down very shortly after it was put up. Fortunately a number of ppl stuck them up elsewhere.
Cheers v @WLEXT for sending the original link.
Special thanks to everyone who helped, particularly to @chanadbh for coming up with the crucial link to Afghanistan.