By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 18, 2008 - A new Afghan constabulary training program addresses reports of police corruption committed by some members of the country's national police, the U.S. commander in charge of training and equipping Afghan soldiers and police said today. The Focused District Development program teaches new and veteran Afghan police officers how to discharge their duties as responsible public servants of the people they've been sworn to protect, Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, chief of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters from his base in Kabul during a satellite-carried news conference.
Cone took command on July 16, 2007. Based at Camp Eggers in Kabul, the security transition command's mission is to train, equip and advise the Afghan Army and national police force.
The new police development program focuses on selected districts that have experienced police misconduct, Cone explained. Senior Afghan government officials conducted citizen meetings to identify trouble areas, Cone said.
"The fundamental issue is corruption" among some members of the nearly 80,000-member national police force, Cone said. Many police previously worked as mercenaries in the militias of local warlords, he said.
A bad economy and very poor police pay likely prompted some Afghan police to make extra money through shake-downs and other unscrupulous actions, he said.
"The police were a security force, but in fact often were involved in illegal kickbacks, bribes, illegal checkpoints on highways, and were often viewed as a real source of corruption," Cone said.
In addition, these ethically-challenged officers "simply did not have the training, or the equipment, or the leadership -- the professional leadership -- to be an effective force," he said.
It is generally believed, Cone added, that the low police pay largely "set the conditions for corruption" within the Afghan police force. Many officers simply had been trying to take care of their families, he said.
Accordingly, Afghan police pay was significantly increased late last year, he said.
The added pay is appreciated, he said, noting that most of Afghanistan's police are dedicated to their country and to their roles as public servants.
"They are very patriot; they want to do the right thing," the general emphasized.
Seven police districts have completed the program's eight weeks' of formal training and those officers have returned to duty under the mentorship of U.S. trainers, Cone said.
The goal, he said, is to reform 52 of the more than 300 Afghan police districts by the end of 2008. It'll take about five years to complete the program, he noted.
"It is important to note that the police are the 'face' of government to the Afghan people and for so long that face has been associated with corruption and unprofessionalism," Cone observed. "Focused District Development is the first real, major step in breaking this cycle of corruption and (to) provide Afghans a professional, well-led and well-trained police force."
Cone said he doesn't understand critics who say Afghanistan's police are being militarized. Afghan police are the first responders to Taliban attacks, he said, and therefore must be properly trained and armed to confront the heavily-armed insurgents.
About 1,000 additional U.S. Marines slated for force-protection duty in Cone's area of operations "are going to give us a really important capability to take our police-reform programs into some of the toughest areas of Afghanistan," he said.