Afghan policeman attacks colleagues, undermining cornerstone of US strategy

The officer was part of the Afghan Local Police, a key component of the US and NATO goal of readying Afghan forces to take over security.

Abdul Khaleq/AP
An Afghan policeman checks a man entering the provincial police station near the main gate of a joint civilian-military base where two British soldiers part of the NATO forces were killed in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday. Just days later, an Afghan police officer in Paktika province killed nine of his colleagues in their sleep on Friday in an attack police are blaming on the Taliban.

An Afghan police officer in Paktika province killed nine of his colleagues in their sleep today in an attack police are blaming on the Taliban. The shooter managed to escape the scene in a pick-up truck and take all his colleagues’ weapons with him.

The incident is the latest in a series of blows to the credibility of Afghan forces, which US and NATO forces are preparing to take over Afghan security ahead of a scheduled 2014 withdrawal. The growing number of killings in which an Afghan soldier or policeman turns his weapon on NATO or Afghan security forces has intensified doubts about the reliability of the Afghan security forces and sparked criticism of the recruitment process.

Waheed Mujhda, an independent analyst in Kabul, says that one of the main problems may stem from the eagerness of the international community and the Afghan government to rapidly expand the size of Afghan security forces, without properly vetting candidates.

“During this process they never pay attention to the background of everyone who comes to the Afghan forces,” he says.

New measures to protect soldiers

The police involved in today's killing were members of the Afghan Local Police, which is a cornerstone of US strategy here as the Pentagon prepares to wind down combat operations as soon as late next year. ALP are recruited to police their own neighborhoods and receive training from US Special Forces.

The attack comes just days after two British soldiers and one American were killed by Afghan security forces or men dressed in Afghan security forces uniforms. This year alone, 16 American and NATO soldiers have lost their lives in “green on blue” killings.” These incidents account for 17 percent of international military fatalities in Afghanistan this year.

Such killings have created enough concern among international troops that they will begin enacting additional measures to protect their own from Afghan soldiers or police potentially turning on them.

Among other measures, so-called “guardian angels” will soon watch over international troops while they sleep. During training exercises with Afghan troops, someone will be assigned to watch over the proceedings with his weapon at the ready.

Annual bill for Afghan security forces: $6 billion

This year, Afghan security forces will reach their target size of 352,000 personnel. Maintaining a force of that size will cost $6 billion per year, most of which will come from the US and other international donors. There is now discussion about decreasing the size of the force to as few as 230,000 to save money.

The Taliban has listed targeting Afghan security forces as a priority, but it remains unclear how closely linked the Taliban is with such attacks. Some of the deadliest such attacks resulted from personal disputes that turned violent.

“Afghan people know this society and they know there are psychological problems for the civilians and military,” says Nasrullah Stanakzai, a political analyst at Kabul University. After three decades of war here, he says that many people have been affected.

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