Afghanistan’s Police Force
By Chris Pedersen
So often in the news the issue of the US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan is a topic that brings out strong emotions from both those that support and oppose the idea of military involvement. With such a grand question, it is futile to argue such a big issue without breaking down the US-Afghan issue into smaller pieces,limiting the number of variables. Let us focus on the US and NATO role in training Afghan police officers. With troops planning on withdrawing in July 2011, this is a very important task.
The US and Allied forces that are in charge of training the new Afghan recruits face some challenging tasks to say the least. These new recruits have some astonishing characteristics that include:
- One in five recruits test positive for drugs.
- Fewer than one in 10 can read and write, making the simplest tasks of writing down a license plate an obstacle.
- Taliban infiltration is a constant worry. Last November, five British NATO officers training a police unit in Helmand Province were killed by one of their trainees. Taliban later claimed the attack.
Afghanis off the street can become a police officer in under 3 months of training . Recruits are given an eight week training course and then placed throughout the country. With poor pay, the highest death rate of all security forces and lack of equipment, a quarter off all officers quit within a year. Recognizing the inadequacies of the current police training force, the US has tried to address some of the concerns of finding new instructors and creating programs that would raise the moral and identity of the Afghan police force.
Instead of the military or State Department taking the role of training the police force, the US government has hired a private contractor, DynCorp, to take on the large endeavor. The actions of the US should speak for itself of the limit to which the US military is stretched and the unwillingness of NATO allies to commit additional resources to the Afghan campaign.
DynCorp, after receiving a large contract by the US has sent a unit that mainly consists of retired police officers to train the police force. Since arriving, the officers have complained that they are overwhelmed by recruits incompetency and facing challenges in communicating information. NATO officers working with DynCorp complain that shortly after arrival, DynCorp contractors had lost motivation and have shown unprofessional attitudes because of lack of managerial oversight. Brig. Gen. Carmelo Burgio, an Italian Carabinieri NATO force contends that one of the biggest failings of the training program was the State Department’s over reliance on private contractors, whom he described as often over-aged, under-motivated, and expensive. Burgio says, “For the cost of 10 DynCorp, I can put 30 Carabinieri (NATO) trainers in and save money.”
Like many other parts of the region, family structure and reliance between family members for survival is crucial. Loyalties between family and the police force has been an issue where family ties prevail. For example, if one family member is in the police force and another in the Taliban, communication will not even seize and usually grow. NATO commanders have been frustrated with failed missions where police forces have planned to ambush the Taliban only to find out that Taliban forces have been tipped off by the Afghan police forces themselves.
This brings me to my last point: When President Obama addressed the world with his future plans of US involvement in Afghanistan, one of the key points that he brought up was the idea of withdrawing in July 2011. Although we will continue to have a presence, both with boots on the ground and monetarily beyond 2011, what confidence does that bring to the Afghan people, whose trust the US and Allied forces have worked so hard to win? If you were in the boots of an Afghan police man, which side would you lean to support, the Taliban who show no signs of leaving their native land or a police force that is backed by an Allied foreign military that will begin its withdrawal in 18 months?