The head of the NATO training mission is in Europe this week with his Afghan counterparts to attend the Afghan National Police Development conference in Brunssum, Holland, discussing the progress of the mission and soliciting support for more assistance. Lieutenant General William Caldwell spoke exclusively to VOA.
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Afghanistan's police force was considered unreliable and corrupt, so last fall NATO stepped in and a new training mission was established under Lieutenant General William Caldwell.
"And so on November 21st, 2009, we stood up a new command inside of Afghanistan because there was a real lack of overall coordination and collaboration as to how the help the police forces in that country," he said. "And that was one of our primary missions. We have the Army too, but police was a real void that needed to be addressed, and that is how NATO did it, by establishing this command."
His mission is to reform the existing police force and expand it. He says what he started with was not ideal.
"We recognized within the country here, over half of the police have never been formally trained, so you have a police force out there of about 90,000, 95,000 people and less than half have ever received any formal training," he added.
He says major challenges include working with recruits who speak multiple languages and illiteracy.
"Only about probably 18 percent of our recruits who come in to be police have any level of literacy, and when I say literacy, we are talking about a 3rd grade level of basic reading and writing skills, so 80 percent have none," he noted.
But Caldwell says there is an even more basic problem.
"I would say our biggest challenge really is probably leadership," he explained. "After 30 years of war here in Afghanistan there is no real leadership amongst the ranks, especially within the police forces. It just does not exist."
NATO plans to expand the police force to 109,000 by the end of October. One group it is targeting is Pashtuns from the south of Afghanistan. Caldwell says they are not part of the police, probably because of Taliban influence in the region. He is hoping the recent military operation in Helmand province will help spur Pashtuns to join.
"Once they have seen the Afghan security forces come through and clear, and now they see the Afghan government coming in with basic services and programs and development, the thought is they would then feel more inclined to serve as a part of the Afghan security forces and would be willing to sign up and become part of the police," said Caldwell.
Caldwell says corruption is a challenge across Afghanistan. Low pay led police to ask for bribes, but last month NATO doubled the pay of officers. A new recruit starts at about $165 a month, plus hazard pay, longevity pay and the opportunity for promotions.
A new training culture is also part of the NATO plan for combating corruption among new recruits.
"If we can start as they first come in and teach them the right philosophy and the right habits, and then also work to get more mid-grade level leaders in there, through some leadership development programs we have just finished putting into place, then we are hoping that will eliminate the corruption we see," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has set a date of July 2011 as a benchmark to start drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Caldwell says that date is about gauging progress toward the ultimate goal, letting Afhgans take control of their own security.
"I think that by the programs we put in place and the training that we are doing with the Afghans, so that they can be more responsible for things, that is probably a reasonable date that you can expect to see a difference starting to occur," he noted. "But I do not think anybody thinks that that will be the point by which the mission here will be complete."
This week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai held talks with a Taliban-linked insurgent group. Caldwell says any effort that supports a peaceful solution rather than a military one is positive.
"The ultimate solution for what happens in Afghanistan really does have to be led by the Afghanistan people and the government of Afghanistan if it is going to work. It has got to be their solution to their problem that can endure and be best for their people," he said.
Caldwell says his main focus is on quality instead of quantity. While he has a numerical goal to achieve, he says the best way to get there is to ensure the recruits they choose, have a real chance of completing the training, and becoming good police officers.