Weak Afghan po­lice threaten NATO plan

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY JAMES PALMER

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan | Out­gunned, out­manned, poorly trained and un­der­paid, Afghan po­lice are a weak link in the U.S.-led ef­fort to sta­bi­lize the coun­try and must im­prove or risk jeop­ar­diz­ing se­cu­rity seven years af­ter U.S.-led forces top­pled the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment.

The chal­lenge is par­tic­u­larly acute in the south­east­ern cor­ner of the coun­try — the for­mer Tal­iban heart­land — where mil­i­tants and crim­i­nal gangs strike with alarm­ing fre­quency. Am­bushes, as­sas­si­na­tions and hi­jack­ings are com­mon.

A re­cent in­sur­gent at­tack on Kandahar city’s prison freed more than 1,000 in­mates, in­clud­ing about 400 Tal­iban fight­ers.

Of­ten, the only de­fense against gangs or the Tal­iban is the lo­cal po­lice. But of­fi­cers ques­tion whether it’s worth risk­ing their lives for a salary equiv­a­lent to about $100 a month.

Com­pared with the Tal­iban, who have rocket-pro­pelled grenades, mor­tars and high-qual­ity AK-47 as­sault ri­fles from Rus­sia, “our weapons are no good,” said Col. Ab­dul­gha­far Noorzi, deputy po­lice chief in the city of Kandahar.

“The po­lice are very weak,” said Na­jibulla, a la­borer in a min­eral wa­ter fac­tory who is in his 30s and, like many other Afghans, uses only one name.

Con­cerned about ris­ing in­se­cu­rity, the United States is poised to move more U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year from Iraq and to con­tinue to ex­pand the Afghan army. But po­lice are also a ma­jor pri­or­ity.

Af­ter three years of fo­cus­ing on the army, NATO is six months into an am­bi­tious project to over­haul, re­form and rearm the Afghan na­tional po­lice as part of a $7 bil­lion se­cu­rity ini­tia­tive. Progress has been min­i­mal.

A stop last month at a po­lice check­point in the cen­ter of Kandahar city re­vealed some of the chal­lenges. Of­fi­cers had no sand­bags, con­crete bar­ri­ers or for­ti­fi­ca­tions for pro­tec­tion. Many of the young re­cruits lacked for­mal train­ing and com­plained about equip­ment.

“My gun locks af­ter fir­ing five times,” said Aman­ul­lah, 23, dis­play­ing his Chi­nese-man­u­fac­tured AK-47.

Stand­ing nearby, Ab­dul Ma­lik, 16, wore a brown util­ity vest packed with clips of am­mu­ni­tion over his blue Tshirt. He looked more like an ado­les­cent play­ing a game than a po­lice of­fi­cer try­ing to de­fend his coun­try.

Col. Noorzi de­scribed many of his young re­cruits as “frag­ile hens that are let out of their cage in the open un­der the sun” and are “blind to on­com­ing am­bushes and at­tacks.”

Even with few screen­ing stan­dards, the force is short-staffed. Po­lice of­fi­cials in the city said there were 3,666 of­fi­cers as of July 14 in Kandahar prov­ince, which is spread over nearly 21,000 square miles.

Of the gov­ern­ment’s 76,000 po­lice of­fi­cers, more are de­ployed to Kandahar than to any other prov­ince, In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Ze­marai Bashari said. But he con­ceded: “We can only work with what we have.”

A pre­vail­ing lack of trust be­tween cit­i­zens and the po­lice com­pounds the chal­lenges. Res­i­dents ac­cuse the po­lice of cor­rup­tion and im­proper con­duct.

Mo­hammed Khalid, 24, owner of a cell phone shop, said many po­lice of­fi­cers wear civil­ian clothes, so “it’s hard to tell the Tal­iban from the po­lice or from the crim­i­nals.”

Po­lice­men here are un­der­stand­ably re­luc­tant to main­tain a high pro­file. Ac­cord­ing to the In­te­rior Min­istry, 230 po­lice­men were killed and 320 were in­jured in Kandahar last year, pri­mar­ily in coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions.

“If I could find an­other job, even if it paid less, I would take it,” said Mo­hammed Naim, 19, who had just sur­vived a road­side bomb­ing on his con­voy that killed five of his col­leagues.

Rookie po­lice­men earn 5,000 afgha­nis monthly, or nearly $100; of­fi­cers re­ceive be­tween 7,000 and 18,000 afgha­nis — $142 to $367. For those new to the force, the salary rarely sup­ports a fam­ily.

“My grand­mother has to go out and beg in the streets,” said Ab­dul, the teenage po­lice­man. He is the only worker in his house­hold, which in­cludes his wid­owed mother and five younger sib­lings.

As ten­sions es­ca­late, Col. Noorzi blames most of the po­lice de­fi­cien­cies on the NATO forces in the area.

“They’re ty­ing our hands and legs and throw­ing us in front of the Tal­iban,” Col. Noorzi said of NATO, which has 51,000 troops from 40 coun­tries on the ground in Afghanistan, in­clud­ing 30,000 Amer­i­cans.

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