Growing Afghan Police Force Needs More Help

By Reeba Critser

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army.

Photo by ISAF RC(S)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Absenteeism, corruption, low pay, lack of equipment and weapons, and a high casualty rate are just some reasons policemen show up at the Jalalabad Regional Training Center in Afghanistan. The goal for them is to avoid these situations.

In most of the country’s districts, policemen are on the force because they were friends with the right people; however, most have undergone no police training and many are illiterate. Many policemen on the payroll receive a considerable paycheck, but never show up to work. Corruption still is high in Afghanistan, but the Afghan government and NATO forces are working to change that.

The desired result is to ensure all policemen receive the same training, equipment, weapons and equal pay. The RTC is where they receive that.

After eight weeks of training approved by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, the police officers are sent home to protect their villages. The courses are taught by Afghans, but U.S. contractor DynCorp employs former policemen as supervisors.

“We get them in, get them trained, and get them out the gate,” said Flint L. Chambers, deputy regional commander for the Jalalabad RTC. “They leave here with brand-new equipment and weapons and go back to their districts. They also receive an eight-week oversight from us [in their home districts].”

Even though more than 54,000 policemen have received the training, Chambers estimates that less than 4 percent of the recruits he receives are literate. But the recruits still give the program high honors.

“Before training, I didn’t know anything; now I know many things,” said Murhaytab, a new police recruit of the Kod district, speaking through an interpreter. “I will return to my district and use what I have learned against my enemies.”

The process of sending policemen to the RTCs begins with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan.

“We target a district, form a [meeting] with them, and determine the best way to proceed with training,” said Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, the American commander of CSTC-A. “We place interim policemen in those districts while they’re training.”

The interim police belong to a program called focused district development. The interim policemen come from around the country, and because no one in that district is familiar with the policeman’s background, corruption is reduced.

“We cannot fight corruption only by words. We need action as well,” said Zemarai Bashari, an Afghanistan Interior Ministry spokesman. The ministry has established an electronic payroll system to monitor the policemen’s paychecks. A national payroll system by rank also was established in the process. The additional challenge is to ensure all policemen in the country are onboard with the training and the payroll, Bashari said.

Although the Afghan National Police budget is more than $2 million, the nation still is short of recruits, trainers and training centers. “If I cannot get more police trainers, it will take five years to complete this program,” Cone said.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said more than 1,000 policemen were killed last year fighting insurgents, the Taliban and narcotics. Even common lawbreakers often are members of the Taliban who profit from the narcotics industry and undermine progress.

“Our police deserve courage and admiration because of their responsibilities,” Bashari said to a group of European reporters. “Your police only tackle crime. Ours fight Taliban who have heavy weapons and artillery.”

Bashari also said that for every 600 Afghans, there is only one policeman protecting them.

Recruiting policemen is a challenge when kidnappings, beheadings and assaults are a big part of crime. In one instance, a policeman was mutilated by the Taliban in front of his tribe to intimidate potential recruits, Cone said.

“These [policemen] are 18 to 20 years old,” he said. “They want to better their country, and they do that by backing NATO forces. We owe these policemen better.”