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.
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Early each morning, the Americans meet with local Afghan police, Army, and intelligence officials at the small base near here.
It's an opportunity for the US trainers improve understanding of how these three entities can coordinate, something that is critical if they are to strengthen the link between them and the local population.
Sitting around a table inside a yellow cement-block building, the men meet to discuss the previous day's events: what enemy activity was spotted, how effective local forces were in patrolling their area, what lessons have been learned.
At one such meeting last month, the Afghan police representative reported solemnly that everything was normal – no incidents to report. But American intelligence officials knew there had been a 45-minute firefight at a bridge nearby between Afghan police and enemy militias. One militia member may have been killed.
Lt. Col. Joel Price, who will be Bidwell's replacement, pushed the police representative for details the officer was disinclined to give.
Later, Colonel Price explained that the Afghans are still trying to shed the skin of a Soviet-model chain of command in which information was hoarded at the top and rarely shared with the bottom, where it was most needed. Afghan Army officers seem to understand this more instinctively, many officials say.
Now it's a matter of teaching the police at all levels that this information must be shared so that local militias don't get the upper hand.
Early in the mission under NATO, the German military had assumed primary responsibility for training the police, creating a comprehensive training academy for senior officers. The approach was premised on building a conventional force capable of conducting routine criminal investigations and traffic stops.
But to US officials and others, this didn't address the root cause of police corruption and malfeasance found at the bottom rungs.
That will take years to build. The US funds most of the training but shares the task with a handful of European nations. Kai Eide, the new special representative for Afghan reconstruction under the UN, said Monday that the US needed more assistance. "The US efforts are good, but I would still like the Europeans to do more," he said in Washington.
Corruption remains a central challenge and, some believe, requires nuanced expectations, like the broader effort of training forces here.
One American officer draws a distinction between a police commander who might steal in order to provide for the men under his command, and another commander, who might tip off the Taliban in advance of a particular coalition operation.
That kind of corruption, he insists, can't be tolerated.
"There is functional corruption," he says, "and then there is dysfunctional corruption." .
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
Lt. Gen.: $750 per month
Brig. Gen.: $550
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