US takes stock of 'withering' Afghanization
By Pratap Chatterjee
WASHINGTON - The system designed to track the success of Afghan police training
is deeply flawed, says a report by the United States Special Inspector General
for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Some 67 out of 101 Afghan National
Police (ANP) units rated capable of working independently had regressed within
a year, said the report published on Tuesday.
"It basically has not been a dependable system on which to determine the
capability of the Afghan national security forces," said SIGAR chief Arnold
Fields. Washington-based SIGAR was created by the US Congress in January 2008
to conduct independent investigations of the US$39 billion in humanitarian and
reconstruction assistance provided to Afghanistan.
The 55-page report, "Actions Needed to Improve the Reliability of Afghan
Security Force Assessments", is bound to complicate the
Barack Obama administration's plans for Afghanistan. One of the key goals for a
drawdown of US troop levels by July 2011 is that at least 100,000 trained
police officers should be operating in Afghan towns as well as in the scattered
villages that make up the bulk of the country.
But when in February 2010 SIGAR inspectors requested a visit to the Baghlan-e
Jadid police district in northern Afghanistan, which received the top rating in
August 2008 and maintained the rating for nine months until it "graduated" in
June 2009, US police mentors refused to escort them there because it was "not
secure". International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials also refused,
saying that the district was "overrun with insurgents".
One ISAF official, whose name is withheld in the report, stated that the police
force in Baghlan-e Jadid had "withered away to the point that it barely
functions". Another US military official quoted in the report said, "Most of
their police officers do not even have uniforms, nor has the majority received
A mentorship team in northern Afghanistan summed up the situation for the
inspectors: "The ANP will simply stop doing what we asked them to do as soon as
we leave the area. This is especially troublesome in areas of security and
'Focused district development'
Until recently, Afghanistan had never really had a national police force,
though before the Soviet invasion of 1979 there was a conscription system that
produced rank-and-file cops working under a trained officer corps.
In 2002, in the wake of the Taliban's defeat, the Germans set up a police
academy in Kabul that offered a five-year training program aimed at bringing
back the officer corps. In 2003, the US awarded a small contract to the
security firm DynCorp to run a "train-the-trainers" program in Kabul, based on
prior work it had done in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.
Yet no one spent much time worrying about beat-cop training, least of all the
George W Bush administration, which was already immersed in planning the
invasion of Iraq and preferred to operate in Afghanistan with what it liked to
call a "light footprint".
By 2005, security in Kabul was deteriorating sharply. At the same time, the
spectacular failure of the US effort to create a brand new police force in Iraq
had helped spark a bloody, devastating civil war in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
Somewhere in this period, Bush administration officials started to wake up to
the possibility that Afghanistan might be heading in the same direction. A
series of new contracts were issued to DynCorp by the State Department's Bureau
of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
The initial training was widely considered to be a failure. At a June 2008
discussion at the US House of Representatives sub-committee on National
Security and Foreign Affairs, John Tierney summed up findings on the 433 ANP
units this way, "Zero are fully capable, 3% are capable with coalition support,
4% are only partially capable, 77% are not capable at all, and 68% are not
formed or not reporting."
In addition, the 50-page report says challenges to training among the Afghan
forces themselves included corruption, drug abuse and illiteracy.
To fix these failures, a new, intensive training program called Focused
District Development (FDD) was launched, under which every police officer in
specific districts would be removed en masse for eight weeks of training in
another part of the country.
In the meantime, the elite police unit, the Afghan National Civil Order Police
(ANCOP), was to temporarily take over local policing duties. When the original
force returned, a mentorship team of 14 internationals accompanied them to
provide advice and - at least theoretically - to root out corruption.
By March 2010, FDD was claiming success. One in eight police districts in the
whole country was rated "independently capable". The rating was even higher for
the districts that had completed FDD, where as many as one in five was assessed
as independent, a vast improvement over 0% in 2008.
Yet these ratings are now being thrown into question by SIGAR, which says that
the "capability measure" system developed by ISAF is itself flawed or based on
For example, the rating system gives high marks to a unit that has sufficient
vehicles. But the inspectors discovered that this is not a good enough measure.
For example, when the inspectors paid a visit to Bati Kot, a top-rated police
district in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, they discovered that the
district had 10 vehicles on hand, but only three capable drivers.
The inspectors found that as many as 44% of police district reports had gone
missing in a single month when they asked to look at documents filed from
September 2009 through February 2010. Most problematic, according to SIGAR, was
the fact that the police units were not able to get adequate supplies like
weapons and vehicles, and that police officers often quitted as soon as the
ratings were completed.
The year-to-date attrition for ANCOP - "the premier force in the ANP" - was
about 73% on average, with one in western Afghanistan reporting a 140% rate of
loss of personnel, suggesting that police officers were quitting faster than
they were being trained. "Mentors said this severe attrition was largely due to
actions taken by powerful anti-coalition forces and disappointment overpay
levels," the inspectors reported.
One particularly embarrassing finding by SIGAR was that the Pentagon had
allegedly fudged data - claiming to have capability ratings for as many as 559
police units in October 2009, even though only 229 police units were being
directly mentored or partnered and assessed as of March 2010. The new report
has already been challenged. Lieutenant General William Caldwell IV, the head
of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Training Mission in Afghanistan,
said the report was "inaccurate, outdated and damaging".
However, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, currently the senior US commander
in Afghanistan, said that the general picture the report painted was
Pratap Chatterjee is a senior editor at CorpWatch. This article was
produced in partnership with CorpWatch.