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    South Asia
     Jul 1, 2010
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 basic training."

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 patrolling."

'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.

Flawed measures
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 inadequate data.

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 "accurate".

Pratap Chatterjee is a senior editor at CorpWatch. This article was produced in partnership with CorpWatch.

(Inter Press Service)


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