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Linchpin in Afghan security: a better police force

The US is stepping up police training to change a force that has a reputation among Afghans as corrupt and often ineffective.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 2, 2008

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Sham Muqeem, Afghanistan

It took months to build the modest brick schoolhouse out here on the edge of these isolated flatlands, but only one night for militants to try to burn it down.

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When Afghan police accompanied US police advisers to investigate the next day, they learned the attackers had succeeded only in temporarily sabotaging the project, tying up a handful of construction workers before burning the wooden window frames and a few wheelbarrows.

Moving around amid the charred steel and burned rubber, the local police attempted to interview witnesses inside the school's courtyard. But it was the US advisers working just outside the school who buttonholed the school principal to determine who might really have been responsible.

Such work is not the most sought-after assignment for American troops deployed to Afghanistan. But it has become a crucial one, as recognition emerges that the US has to step up the training of police as part of a broader effort to stabilize the country in the face of a resurgent Taliban.

Six years into the fight here, American and NATO forces say they have put the Afghan National Army on a track toward success. But the police – seen by some as more important to taming an insurgency – still lag far behind. Now coalition forces are trying to make up for lost time, and training the police has become a top priority.

The urgency of the task is felt by instructors here. The just-released annual US State Department report about the Taliban's impact, citing UN-compiled figures, said militants staged some 140 suicide bomb attacks this year that inflicted large civilian casualties. Militia groups that include the Taliban, the report stated, have begun to kidnap foreigners and target nongovernmental organizations, UN workers, and others.

The report also noted insurgents' attacks on schools, teachers, and students – especially girls. Indeed, American officials say two other schools near here were targeted in recent weeks.

But the investigation of the incident at the school here in Logar Province, south of the capital of Kabul, illustrates the overwhelming challenges of the effort.

"Our goal is to create independence," Maj. Mark Bidwell, a member of the Michigan National Guard who commands the embedded police advisory team that investigated the burned school, says later. "The challenge is giving them the confidence."

Image of corruption

Unlike the Army, in which the public has much confidence, the police have been seen as weak, ineffectual, and corrupt.

The Afghan police

Training and equipping budget


*2005: $200 million

2006: $1.2 billion

2007: $2.5 billion

* The US did not begin significant training and equipping until 2005.

Number of officers nationally

Trained and assigned: 42,000

Authorized goal: 82,000

Sample salaries

Lt. Gen.: $750 per month

Brig. Gen.: $550

Captain: $280

1st Lieutenant: $230

1st Sergeant: $190

1st Patrolman: $110

*Captains and below are on "pay parity" with the Afghan National Army, while majors through colonels are still awaiting rank reform.

Source: Command Security Transition Command-Afghanistan