Afghans rally behind policeman's rare act of bravery

Tue Oct 25, 2011 3:47am EDT
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By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - Policeman Abdul Sameh drew his gun when he saw a suicide bomber approaching the Kabul base he was paid to protect. They fired at each other and Sameh brought down his man, but took a bullet to the head himself. The shot was fatal.

Hundreds of Afghan police officers are killed each year, but Sameh's self-sacrificing heroism in the line of duty was rare.

Many Afghans are deeply cynical about the fast-growing police force, often decried as corrupt and inept. Police posts, the first line of defense against militant attacks in rural areas, are often easily overrun by better-armed, more committed insurgents.

So since Sameh's death last month, government officials have been queuing up to associate themselves with his memory, and to use him as an example of how they want the police to be seen.

Posters of the slain policeman have been printed and stuck up on the road leading to the Interior Ministry and around the ministry building in Kabul, great parts of which are under constant surveillance by armed guards, and where the memory of September's assault by rocket-firing insurgents is fresh.

"This is part of a campaign for us to promote the image of the police force among the public," a senior police official said at the weekend, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We mention these rare acts of heroism whenever we can."

The deputy interior minister helped pay for Sameh's burial, the governor of his home province Wardak gave the family a plot of land, and officers at the national intelligence agency donated a month's salary to his family.

In a statement from the presidential palace, President Hamid Karzai offered land to the families of shot police officers, and praised the heroism of three other police who were killed on the same day as Sameh.   Continued...