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NATO Struggles to Build Viable Police Force in Afghanistan

  • Jennifer Glasse

NATO has discovered it is not well equipped to train a new national police force for Afghanistan and has turned to the European Union and private contractors for guidance.

Afghan police beat their batons against their shields in a drill showing how they would react if a demonstration became violent.

They are the most highly trained of Afghanistan's police forces designed to handle difficult situations.

Italian Carabinieri Brigadier General Carmelo Burgio is helping train the police. He says they are just what Afghanistan needs right now.

"They are the right tools for this kind of job because they are policemen, so they have the mentality of policemen. They have to deal with people, but they have also a sort of military training," says Brigadier General Carmelo Burgio.

The police in Afghanistan are accused of widespread corruption and are said to make money from bribes at checkpoints or at the border. In November an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers who were training him. Their commander told a British newspaper recently that police corruption is fueling the insurgency.

But six months ago, NATO set up a new command for training the police, and its officials say they are working to eradicate the culture of corruption and ill-discipline.

Earlier this year, police salaries were increased and many are now being paid through bank transfers, so no one is able to take a cut of a policeman's pay before it gets into the hands of the employee.

Journalist Massoud Farivar produces radio programs broadcast across the country. He says what NATO is doing is a start, but there is still a long way to go.

"I think there has been some change, but I do not think there has been significant change in the police," says Farivar. "In general, I would say that there is greater public trust in army than police. The police is still seen as incompetent, corrupt and predatory."

The man in charge of developing the police force, Canadian Major General Mike Ward, says that can be corrected with training.

"If people see them as incompetent, corrupt and predatory, they should also see them as untrained. We can address the untrained part," Major General Ward said.

Perhaps because of the pay raise, recruitment for the force is strong. Attrition rates had been high, likely because police have been threatened and killed by insurgents, especially in the south around Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. Ward says police are targeted because they are working with NATO.

"The police are the ones that are in the fight every day," he added. "They are the ones dying in tremendous numbers, being injured, being wounded. Their families are under great risk and threat."

The police are at the center of NATO's strategy for wresting control from the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, particularly around Kandahar.

A police convoy heading to Kandahar for the offensive was attacked eight times by insurgents on the road. That they defended themselves well is considered a victory, but NATO and Afghan police officials say there is still a lot of work to do before Afghanistan has a police force it can depend on.

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