Defense Base Act Compensation Blog

The Modern Day DBA Casualty

$6 Billion Later, Afghan Cops Aren’t Ready to Serve

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on March 20, 2010

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, Mark Hosenball and Ron Moreau, Newsweek – March 20, 2010 6:00 am EDT

This story was co-published with Newsweek.

Original Story at ProPublica

Mohammad Moqim watches in despair as his men struggle with their AK-47 automatic rifles, doing their best to hit man-size targets 50 meters away. A few of the police trainees lying prone in the mud are decent shots, but the rest shoot clumsily, and fumble as they try to reload their weapons. The Afghan National Police (ANP) captain sighs as he dismisses one group of trainees and orders 25 more to take their places on the firing line. “We are still at zero,” says Captain Moqim, 35, an eight-year veteran of the force. “They don’t listen, are undisciplined, and will never be real policemen.”

Poor marksmanship is the least of it. Worse, crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban, according to Saleh Mohammed, an insurgent commander in Helmand province. The bullets and rocket-propelled grenades sold by the cops are cheaper and of better quality than the ammo at local markets, he says. It’s easy for local cops to concoct credible excuses for using so much ammunition, especially because their supervisors try to avoid areas where the Taliban are active. Mohammed says local police sometimes even stage fake firefights so that if higher-ups question their outsize orders for ammo, villagers will say they’ve heard fighting.

America has spent more than $6 billion since 2002 in an effort to create an effective Afghan police force, buying weapons, building police academies, and hiring defense contractors to train the recruits—but the program has been a disaster. More than $322 million worth of invoices for police training were approved even though the funds were poorly accounted for, according to a government audit, and fewer than 12 percent of the country’s police units are capable of operating on their own. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s top representative in the region, has publicly called the Afghan police “an inadequate organization, riddled with corruption.” During the Obama administration’s review of Afghanistan policy last year, “this issue received more attention than any other except for the question of U.S. troop levels,” Holbrooke later told NEWSWEEK. “We drilled down deep into this.”

The worst of it is that the police are central to Washington’s plans for getting out of Afghanistan. The U.S.-backed government in Kabul will never have popular support if it can’t keep people safe in their own homes and streets. Yet in a United Nations poll last fall, more than half the Afghan respondents said the police are corrupt. Police commanders have been implicated in drug trafficking, and when U.S. Marines moved into the town of Aynak last summer, villagers accused the local police force of extortion, assault, and rape.

The public’s distrust of the cops is palpable in the former insurgent stronghold of Marja. Village elders welcomed the U.S. Marines who recently drove out the Taliban, but told the Americans flatly they don’t want the ANP to return. “The people of Marja will tell you that one of their greatest fears was the police coming back,” says Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who took over in November as chief of the U.S. program to expand and improve Afghanistan’s security forces. “You constantly hear these stories about who was worse: the Afghan police that were there or the Taliban.” The success of America’s counterinsurgency strategy depends on the cops, who have greater contact with local communities than the Army does. “This is not about seizing land or holding terrain; it’s about the people,” says Caldwell. “You have to have a police force that the people accept, believe in, and trust.”

More than a year after Barack Obama took office, the president is still discovering how bad things are. At a March 12 briefing on Afghanistan with his senior advisers, he asked whether the police will be ready when America’s scheduled drawdown begins in July 2011, according to a senior official who was in the room. “It’s inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren’t training the police,” replied Caldwell, taking part in the meeting via video link from Afghanistan. “We just never trained them before. All we did was give them a uniform.” The president looked stunned. “Eight years,” he said. “And we didn’t train police? It’s mind-boggling.” The room was silent.

Efforts to build a post-Taliban police force have been plagued from the start by unrealistic goals, poor oversight, and slapdash hiring. Patrolmen were recruited locally, issued weapons, and placed on the beat with little or no formal training. Most of their techniques have been picked up on the job—including plenty of ugly habits. Even now, Caldwell says, barely a quarter of the 98,000-member force has received any formal instruction. The people who oversaw much of the training that did take place were contractors—many of them former American cops or sheriffs. They themselves had little proper direction, and the government officials overseeing their activities did not bother to examine most expenses under $3,000, leaving room for abuse. Amazingly, no single agency or individual ever had control of the training program for long, so lines of accountability were blurred.

Coalition efforts to build an Afghan police force were painfully slow at first. By 2003 the U.S. State Department decided to speed things up by deploying the Virginia-based defense contractor DynCorp International, which had held previous contracts to train police officers in Kosovo and Haiti. The company began setting up a string of training centers across the country. After the Defense Department took a role in overseeing that work in 2005, it squabbled constantly with State over whether the training should emphasize police work or counterinsurgency.

Neither the State Department nor DynCorp was prepared for the job they faced. Most of the recruits are rural villagers who have never been inside a classroom. Roughly 15 percent test positive for drugs, primarily hashish. Few know how to use a toothbrush or drive, and nearly 90 percent are illiterate. In 2005 DynCorp opened a new police academy on the outskirts of Jalalabad, and within a few months the academy’s drains backed up. Maintenance workers discovered that the septic tanks were full of smooth stones—a toilet-paper substitute used by many rural Afghans. DynCorp had to bring in backhoes to repair the problem, and the company had to add two days of classes in basic hygiene.

Read the entire story at Propublica

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