Afghanistan’s Police in Action

by Joshua Foust on 3/16/2009

It’s almost like a theme is emerging.

New York Times, December 4, 2006:

Five years after the fall of the Taliban, a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department has found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone…

Efforts to respond to some of the issues that the report identifies are already under way. Afghan and American officials recently announced that they had instituted an “auxiliary police” program at the end of the summer, which aims to hire 11,200 officers in parts of the country beset by Taliban attacks, primarily in the south.

But those officers receive only two of the standard eight weeks of training, and the police training experts say the program could worsen the situation. They say the new hastily created program could place ill-trained and poorly vetted officers in the field and allow militias and criminals to infiltrate the force…

The international effort lost critical time when it initially mounted a token effort to train officers in Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials and policing experts. For the first two and a half years after the fall of the Taliban, no systematic police training program existed outside of Afghanistan’s capital, according to American and Afghan officials. The United States focused on training a new multiethnic army and paid little attention to the need for policemen. Germany pledged to train a new force but sent only 40 police advisers to Kabul.

It only got better from there. A short review follows.

David Axe, World Politics Review, June 21, 2007:

Traffic in the bustling capital city converges at a major intersection adjacent to a sprawling market ringed by wedding halls. Here, a dozen Afghan traffic police in white uniforms stop seemingly random cars. Heated conversations ensue, documents are passed back and forth, then money changes hands and the cops wave the drivers through.

The drivers’ violation? “They are always making up excuses,” Mohammad Zaman, a commercial minibus driver, says of the traffic police. He says that every day he and his fellow drivers pass through the intersection in order to pick up passengers on a nearby side road, they have to pay 400 Afghanis — around $9 in a country where the average worker makes just $2 a day.

The price of disobedience is steep, according to Zaman. “If we stop on the road and we do not pay the money, they will take us to the station and we will have to pay double.”

Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, September 16, 2008:

Cooper, a preternaturally taciturn man, was stunned. Joe ran up to a police truck to find out what was happening. The ANP, he said, were angry about not being able to seize the motorcycle, and refused to continue the mission with the Hooligans. Without the ANP, the soldiers couldn’t enter the kalat — meaning they’d potentially have to leave a weapons cache where the Taliban could move it.

Oakes, marching back to his truck, said this was “pretty par for the course,” adding with a rueful grin that the police in this area were still better than the troop of the Afghan National Army. A frustrated PMT soldier said the cops were “temperamental little children.”

Graeme Wood, The New Yorker, December 8, 2008:

The men on duty were not inattentive, but they seemed fundamentally unserious. They lacked initiative, and sat back and murmured to one another while the Canadians interviewed a local farmer. The Canadians barely spoke with their A.N.A. contingent at all, and the Afghan soldiers seemed to regard it as their principal duty to stand in place while the Canadians conducted their search.

Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, Frontline Club, December 8, 2008:

There is no feeling that the central government in Kabul projects a legitimate source of authority down here either. The reputation of that government – and foreign powers by association – has been muddied over the past 7 years.

Rajiv Chandresakaran, The Washington Post, March 14, 2008:

In some parts of Afghanistan, police regularly patrol roads and interdict people planting bombs. But in Maywand, the police spend more time in the district capital. Although they have been through a new U.S.-led training program and have been assigned a team of civilian and military mentors, the police officers generally cannot be bothered to walk the beat. And they have little interest in solving crimes. When a man came to police headquarters recently to complain that his motorcycle had been stolen, the police refused to act without a bribe.

“Fine,” he said, according to soldiers who witnessed the encounter. “I’m going to the Taliban. At least they’ll take me seriously.”

This requires very little comment.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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