War on Terrorism

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Afghan Police Play Critical Role in Country's Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

April 28, 2009 - Afghanistan really will be secure only when Afghan police enforce the rule of law in the country, said a senior officer in the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan. Army Brig. Gen. Anne F. Macdonald, the command's assistant commanding general responsible for police development, said during a recent interview on Afghanistan's Camp Eggers that Afghan police forces are critical to success in that country.

"We can help, but ultimately it is going to be up to Afghan security forces – most notably the police – to make the difference," she said.

There is no shortage of Afghan police bravery, she said, noting that the enemy killed more than 1,500 Afghan police officers last year.

"They weren't out there just playing tiddlywinks," Macdonald said. "The enemy obviously thinks the police are a danger to them, and are targeting them."

The Afghan police face tremendous challenges, according to U.S. embassy and military officials. Historically, the police did not have a stellar reputation. Before the Soviet invasion, the police were notoriously corrupt. Thirty years of invasion, warlordism and the Taliban did not improve the situation. There was no police force, just militias that extorted money from the people and protected drug lords.

Today, every poll that is taken shows the Afghan National Army is the most-respected organization in the country. The Afghan people perceive their soldiers as warriors who are above corruption and who represent all Afghans. The same must become true of the police for there to be success, Macdonald said.

Overcoming the historical perception is just one part of the problem for building an effective police force, she said. Attracting the right types of recruits means ensuring the recruits are loyal to the government and not to the Taliban, a warlord or al-Qaida. In addition, there are seven major languages in Afghanistan and a number of dialects, further complicating the training process. Illiteracy is another problem. Thirty years of war has wrecked the education system and very few men and even fewer women are literate. Drug addiction also is an issue in Afghanistan, and there is testing to weed addicts out. The age range for police recruits is 18 to 28.

The police regional training center in Kabul trains 500 recruits in each eight-week course. The recruits mostly come from the Kabul area, but can include police from other provinces.

"It is so important that we get this right," Macdonald said. "It starts here in this center where you plant the seed of pride and service to Afghanistan. Here is where we begin to change the Afghan peoples' conception of their police."

Recruits are screened, tested and equipped at the center. Then they begin rigorous hands-on classes on everything from how to handcuff a suspect to respecting human rights to how to professionally search a house, said Afghan Police Brig. Gen. Khudeidad Agher, the commandant of the center through a translator. Other subjects include firearms, drill, physical training, riot control, rule of law, traffic control, first aid, crime scene management, values and ethics.

There is so much that needs to be done in Afghanistan that people often forget how much has been accomplished. Agher has been in charge of the center for more than three years. "The saying is that tomorrow is better than today and the effort tomorrow will be better than today," he said.

Police had no training when he took over as commandant, Agher said. Instead, officers were hired and sent to stations. Now, his center and the others in the country have trained about 82,000 police officers.

Barracks to house the trainees are near completion, which will allow for even more rigorous training at the center. It also will allow the center to provide literacy classes for those who need it. Equipment is coming in to ensure the recruits have what they need to train. Agher said he has asked for educational movies to reinforce the hands-on lessons with his trainees.

"The police are more professional and better trained, and when the police training teams come in they will be even better," he said.

Agher was referring to Police Mentor Teams that will embed with Afghan police units and coach police leaders during training. The teams will continue the training for the police in the real world. The concept has worked in places like Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. Part of the 4,000-member 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division will be assigned to this duty.

A lot rides on the success of this training, and Agher said he knows it.

"I hope with the help of God and our foreign friends and the hard work of the Afghans themselves that this will succeed," he said.

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