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US-Trained Afghan Police 'Nearly as Unpopular as Taliban in South'

Afghanistan's police force is only slightly more popular than the Taliban in the insurgent heartlands of the south, according to a survey commissioned by the UN.

The results of the poll, published today, portrayed a police force widely viewed by Afghans as corrupt and biased, underscoring doubts about a planned Nato handover. About half the 5,052 Afghans surveyed across all 34 provinces said they would report crime elsewhere.

The findings represent a blow to western efforts to extend the reach of the central government and its security forces to areas under the sway of the Taliban, particularly in the south, which has borne the brunt of Nato and US military operations to drive back insurgents.

Building the police force and entrenching it in rural areas is crucial to a planned security transition to the Afghan army and police this year, and the gradual withdrawal of 150,000 US and Nato troops by the end of 2014.

Nationwide, 79% of Afghans said they had a favourable opinion of the police, unchanged from 2009, and most Afghans said their personal security was improving.

But in the south, the popularity of the police has dropped over the past year from 67% to 48%. There, the police fared only slightly better than the Taliban. Only 13% of Afghans nationwide have a favourable opinion of the Taliban, but the figure is 40% in the south.

The Afghan Centre for Socioeconomic and Opinion Research, which conducted the survey last November, said sharp regional differences in views of the police marked the fractured nature of the security situation in Afghanistan.

Violence across the country is at its worst since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, with the insurgency spreading from its southern and eastern strongholds to the north and west.

Nationwide, 60% of Afghans reported a significant level of corruption among police officers, and a quarter reported police favouritism on the basis of personal connections in the investigating of crimes.

The results suggested "a reluctance to engage" with the police, the report said. Fewer than a third of Afghans see the police as very well trained, equipped and prepared to take over security responsibility from Nato-led forces.

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