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Why it's so hard for NATO to train Afghan forces

Corruption, drug addiction, and too many Afghan deserters, make handing over power a daunting task, say NATO officials and Western diplomats.

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There are bigger failings within Afghanistan’s security forces, too. On Monday, a man in police uniform killed six US Army soldiers in eastern Afghanistan. Here in Sangin, in the southwestern province of Helmand, a member of the Afghan National Army is suspected of shooting two US Marines in early November and fleeing into the night. The event is still under investigation although the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the gunman was a plant.

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NATO characterized both incidents as the actions of a “rogue” individual and Afghan military leaders expressed shock and embarrassment at the killings in Sangin, according to US Marine Maj. John Bobo, a military adviser. But there have been at least four other shootings in the past 13 months.

Meanwhile, US trainers – proud of the improvements they say they've seen by many of their charges in the Afghan National Army or Afghan Uniformed Police – say that incidents such as the drug overdose are the exception to the rule. “It’s just a small handful,” says US Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jens Orsen, a police adviser. “We really have to weigh our options: Do we take action on someone smoking weed and … just lose five people that otherwise do their jobs well and contribute out there?”

“They operate well, they know what to do… we’re really trying to get these guys to operate a little more independently,” Orsen continues. “They’re biggest shortfalls are accountability and some of their gear… my biggest heartache is trying to develop their leadership," he says.

What happens in Sangin, the setting for some of the insurgency’s fiercest fighting, has now become the focus of trainers in southwestern Afghanistan. "The police are the first-line offense against the insurgency," says Col. Robert Golden, the US official overseeing the training program in the region. "If we can have a strong police presence in the districts, they can do a very good job of separating the population from the insurgency and protecting the population."


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