With the Obama administration's plan to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by 2014, U.S.-led coalition forces are racing against the clock to train a new local police force in one vital Afghan town. But it is not easy convincing eligible men to enlist.
Coalition planners say they need 100 police officers to secure Marzak. Village elders promised at least that many men would volunteer for a new Afghan Local Police force. But by late January, fewer than 50 had stepped forward.
Noor Khan, the district chief of the national police, worries that without enough recruits, the coalition will be blind in Marzak.
"Right now we need the ALPs because they are of these people and from this town and they can identify potential bad guys who don't belong," said Khan.
After elders skip a scheduled meeting in late January, Sergeant Scott Herring leads a force of U.S. and Afghan soldiers into Marzak, seeking fresh recruits -- and an explanation.
"Right now, we've come into this town, and we were hoping that we would be able to get in touch with the elders who were supposed to meet us at 11:00 as they promised us, with recruits, which they did not. So we came here to see if we could find them and meet up with them, and the whole city is abandoned," said Herring.
Spotting a few young men, Herring pitched police service to them without success. Herring finally tracked down several elders. They reluctantly offered up excuses.
"This is a heavily, as you know already, heavily Taliban area," Herring noted. "They're scared. They're scared of repercussions and all these things. It's hard to get them to understand that the stronger we make them, there's no repercussions because they'll be too strong for anyone to come in here and do anything to them. That's the convincing we have to get through [to them]."
With daylight fading and still no new recruits, the Afghan troops accompanying the Americans come up with a plan.
The Afghan soldiers announce they will force the elders to enlist unless at least 20 young men volunteer. The threat works. Herring gets his 20 recruits and more.
The patrol returned to base, its ranks swelled by reluctant enlistees.
Perkins defended the forceful tactics of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
"The general consensus is early on, the development of the Afghan security forces tends to rely a little bit heavily, or more heavily, on forceful recruiting or conscription," said Perkins. "Then as time goes by, a critical mass starts to develop, and more people feel comfortable joining."
But there's one question no one has answered. Will the new police officers be willing to risk their lives fighting the Taliban, especially after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan in 2014?