By ANN MARLOWE
April 25, 2008
Afghanistan will be a stable, self-sufficient state only when it can both defend its borders and provide law and order to its citizens.
The country is much further along on the first test: The Afghan National Army hasn’t lost an engagement with the insurgents in a year, and is beginning operations without coalition aid.
But the Afghan National Police (ANP) is still dysfunctional, despite years of training by NATO and U.S. mentors. A new American plan offers hope of changing that.
“The police are the face of government in Afghanistan,” says Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, the American commander in charge of police training. He has a tough mission: reforming a police force of 78,000 and overseeing 7,000 trainers in 280 locations. “We don’t need to make these cops as good as the 82nd Airborne,” he says, referring to the storied unit that just finished a 15-month rotation here. “We just need to make them two-and-a-half times better than the enemy.”
This is already happening with the elite units of the ANP. The 1,600-strong Afghan National Civil Order Police (Ancop) has only lost one man to the insurgency since it was fielded in May 2007. In southern Zabul province, a police unit recently eliminated the Taliban forces that attacked them.
But for the most part, the ANP has proved an expensive quagmire. After Europeans charged with its training failed, the U.S. Army took up the task in late 2005, spending more than $1 billion in 2006 and $2.5 billion in 2007. This bought training, new Ford Ranger pickup trucks, weapons and barracks for the police in two-thirds of the country. Much of the $2.5 billion won’t be spent until later this year, and much of this year’s $800 million budget will be used in 2009, due to the timing of Congressional appropriations.
Gen. Cone’s men are trying to improve the police faster than the insurgents can kill them, which is often by explosives. The ANP is especially vulnerable in unarmored, U.S.-provided Ford Ranger trucks. The Afghan National Army is just now getting up-armored Humvees like those of U.S. troops. But neither the army nor the police have the jamming capacity to prevent phone-activated, improvised-explosive devices.
The police casualty rate has been alarming. According to Gen. Cone, 825 police died last year. By comparison, 181 police died in the line of duty in the 10-times larger U.S. in 2007.
So Gen. Cone is trying a new approach. The Focused District Development (FDD) plan was rolled out last year in seven of Afghanistan’s most dangerous districts, selected to track the ring road around the country. The same process is scheduled for 172 districts by 2010. (Afghanistan has 365 districts, but many are in the relatively tranquil north, west or center regions.)
Assessment teams vetted the cops in the seven districts, separating the irredeemable officers from the promising. The latter were sent to a regional training center for two months to learn everything from how to handcuff suspects and search a house to what rights suspects have. They worked with police mentoring teams composed of U.S. Army and Dynacorp trainers.
The Ancops were sent in for two months while the old cops trained. (“A lot of the people didn’t want the Ancops to leave,” Gen. Cone comments. “They say that these police are on our side.”) Then the new trainees came back with their police mentoring teams to live and work together for two to four months. Eventually, the mentoring teams would no longer live with the police, but come in for occasional inspections and advice.
Reform will not happen overnight. Gen. Cone explains: “We’re going as fast as we can, and the product we put out at eight weeks training can survive on this battlefield, in Helmand and Kandahar. We need 2,300 more trainers to do this job. I’ve used up 81 training teams to date, the next round of FDD will take 11 more, and I’ve only got 102 mentor teams.”
It is too soon to tell if the first phase has led to more local support for the police, and greater police effectiveness against the insurgents. Gen. Cone’s attempts to attract better cops may be succeeding, even if the eight-week training doesn’t work on everyone. Recently, in the district of Zurmat in Paktia province, the existing police returned from their training. Some of the better qualified officers caught eight of the freshly trained ANP setting up illegal checkpoints.
There is still a ways to go. But if our Army can make the ANP a respected and trusted institution, Afghanistan will have passed a major milestone on the road to self-sufficiency.
Ms. Marlowe is a New York-based writer who just finished her third embed with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.