Policing Afghanistan: How Afghan Police Training Became a Train Wreck

The Pentagon faces a tough choice: Should it award a new
contract to Xe (formerly Blackwater), a company made
infamous
when its employees killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007, or
to DynCorp, a company made
infamous
in Bosnia in 1999 when some of its employees were caught
trafficking young girls for sex?

The Pentagon faces a tough choice: Should it award a new
contract to Xe (formerly Blackwater), a company made
infamous
when its employees killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007, or
to DynCorp, a company made
infamous
in Bosnia in 1999 when some of its employees were caught
trafficking young girls for sex?

This billion-dollar contract will be the linchpin of a training
program for the Afghan National Police, who are theoretically to be
drilled in counterinsurgency tactics that will help defeat the Taliban
and bring security to impoverished, war-torn Afghanistan. The program is
also considered a crucial component of the Obama administration's plan
for turning the war around. Ironically, Xe was
poised
to win the contract until a successful
appeal
by DynCorp last week threw the field wide open.

Some people in the U.S. government (and many outside it) believe that
this task should not be assigned to private contractors in the first
place. Meanwhile, many police experts are certain that it hardly matters
which company gets the contract. Like so many before it, the latest
training program is doomed from the outset, they believe, because its
focus will be on defeating the Taliban rather than fostering
community-oriented policing.

The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can't
put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into
the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won't be
able to begin a drawdown of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the
middle of next year.

"The Obama administration's strategy for the Afghan police is to
increase numbers, enlarge the 'train and equip' program, and engage the
police in the fight against the Taliban," says
Robert Perito, an expert on police training at the United States
Institute of Peace and the author of a new book, The
Police in War
. "This approach has not worked in the past, and
doing more of the same will not achieve success."

When it comes to police training, the use of private contractors is
not unusual -- and neither is failure. North Carolina-based Xe has, in
fact, been training the
Afghan border police for more than two years, and Virginia-based
DynCorp has been doing the same
for the Afghan uniformed police for more than seven years now.
Nonetheless, the mismanagement of the $7 billion spent on police
training over the last eight years, partly attributed to lax
U.S. State Department oversight, has left the country of 33 million
people with a strikingly ineffective and remarkably corrupt police
force. Its terrible habits and reputation have led the inhabitants of
many Afghan communities to turn to the Taliban for security.

Of the training programs run by
the NATO Training
Mission
out of Camp Eggers in Kabul, the Afghan capital, only
DynCorp's component is even fully staffed. The company supplies 782
former American police officers to dozens of training centers and
military bases scattered around the country to work with the U.S.
military and with European Union police mentors. Altogether there are
supposed to be 4,000 of these trainers, but NATO estimates that it has
only half of the staffers it needs.

In a desperate attempt to offset this shortage of trainers, Afghan
Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has proposed
the dispatching of 3,000 police officers annually to Jordan and Turkey
for nine months of instruction abroad.

Too-Fast-Track Training

In May 2009, I visited several training sites for the Afghan security
forces in and around Kabul. Major Joey Schneider of the Combined
Security Transition Command-Afghanistan escorted me around a recruitment
center at the Kabul Central Police Command. There, dozens of raw
recruits from Afghan villages were being tested for ever-present drugs
before induction into a fast-track program to double the 5,000 police
officers in Kabul before the August elections.

"After three weeks in the Kabul Security Acceleration Program, these
men will get a badge, uniform, and gun and be sent out to patrol,"
Schneider explained. Asked if that was really sufficient, he assured me
that the new police officers would be given an additional five weeks of
intensive post-election training by DynCorp contractors and
international military mentors.

Three months later, a report for the European Commission written by
Scott Chilton and Tim Bremmers, two police experts, in collaboration
with Eckart Schiewek, a senior United Nations official, concluded that
this approach was a disaster-in-the-making. It was, they claimed,
causing an "absolute irresponsible downgrading" of the police force.
"Our view is that the spiraling increase in police deaths and wounding
will further increase with quick-fix recruiting, poor training, and
equipping."

Absurd as it may sound, this program is considered better conceived
than many of the older training programs the Afghan government launched
with U.S. funding. For example, a 2006 attempt to induct 11,000
villagers into a new organization dubbed the Afghan National Auxiliary
Police -- with only 10 days of training from DynCorp and international
military mentors -- was a complete and abysmal failure. One-third of the
trainees in certain southern provinces, given a gun and a uniform, were
never seen again. Two years later, in September 2008, the project was
terminated.

A 2008
report
by the well-respected International Crisis Group pointed out
that such rapid-induction programs had the perverse effect of actually
lowering the average literacy rate and effectiveness of the Afghan
police force -- and that's without even considering the security
problems created by those drop-outs with guns.

Eight Years of Failures

Until recently, Afghanistan has never really had a national police
force, though before the Soviet invasion of 1979 there was a
conscription system that produced rank-and-file cops working under a
trained officer corps. In 2002, in the wake of the Taliban's defeat,
the Germans set up a
police academy in Kabul that offered a five-year training program aimed
at bringing back the officer corps. In 2003, the U.S. awarded a small
contract to DynCorp to run a train-the-trainers program in Kabul, based
on prior work it had done in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

Yet no one spent much time worrying about beat-cop training, least of
all the Bush administration, which was already immersed in planning the
invasion of Iraq and preferred to operate in Afghanistan with what it
liked to call a "light footprint."

By 2005, security in Kabul was deteriorating sharply. At the same
time, the spectacular failure of the U.S. effort to create a brand new
police force in Iraq had helped spark a bloody, devastating civil war in
Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Somewhere in this period, Bush
administration officials started to wake up to the possibility that
Afghanistan might be heading in the same direction. A series of new
contracts were then issued to DynCorp by the State Department's
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs -- $1.6
billion in training work scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009.
(The contracts have since been extended to June 2010.)

State Department planners seem to have taken an inordinately long
time to wake up to the basic problems that Afghanistan faced in creating
a viable police force. With salaries pegged at $16 a month for a beat
cop in 2002, the police were particularly vulnerable to corruption in
the form of extorted bribes, and to the Taliban who offered much higher
wages to their fighters. Making the situation worse, the force was
remarkably top-heavy. More than 20,000 officers and non-commissioned
officers oversaw only 36,000 patrolmen. It was regularly alleged that
they made their beat cops shake down citizens for bribes. In fact, a 2007 study
by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan that reviewed
the records of 2,464 police officers found claims of drug trafficking,
corruption, or assaults against more than one-third of them.

"There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want
to see is the police showing up," Brigadier General Gary O'Brien,
former deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition
Command-Afghanistan, told
the Canadian Press news agency in March 2007. "They are part of the
problem. They do not provide security for the people -- they are the
robbers of the people."

Salaries are not the only budget shortfall. Afghanistan simply has no
money to pay for equipment like guns and police vehicles, or even to
build police stations. Instead, for the last eight years the Afghan
police have received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donated
weapons and other equipment, much of which turned out to be broken or
incompatible with the equipment the force already had. Typical was a batch
of thousands of Czech VZ58 rifles that look like the AK-47s Afghan
policemen traditionally carry but require completely different
maintenance procedures.

In another glaring example of what
a lack of resources has led to, Hazeb Emerging Business, an Afghan
company hired to maintain the force's weapons, used hammers and nails to
"repair" grenade launchers, because they had no idea how to fix donated
weapons. In perhaps the most widely reported mishap, AEY Inc., based in
Florida, and described
by the New York Times as "a fledgling company led by a
22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur," dispatched
to the Afghan security forces 100 million Chinese cartridges, some 40
years old and in "decomposing packaging," under a $10 million Pentagon
contract.

In a country where the official literacy rate is pegged at an
optimistic 30% -- some estimates put the rate among police recruits at
closer to 5%, or even less -- most of any Western-style training
curriculum proves strikingly irrelevant. To make things worse, one in
five volunteers for police training is a drug-abuser, a statistic that
rises to 60% in southern provinces like Helmand, which produces a
significant part of the opium crop for the world's leading narco-state.

Not surprisingly, then, capability assessments of the Afghan police
have been less than encouraging. At a June 2008 discussion at the U.S.
House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign
Affairs, Congressman John Tierney summed
up
findings on the 433 Afghan National Police units of that moment
this way: "Zero are fully capable, three percent are capable with
coalition support, four percent are only partially capable, 77 percent
are not capable at all, and 68 percent are not formed or not reporting."

A new plan was drawn up under which dramatic changes were made,
including the raising of police salaries to $180 a month in 2010 (and in
high-risk areas up to $240). In addition, increasing numbers of police
salaries are now paid directly and electronically to bank accounts or
cell phones, which means it's harder for officers to dip into the meager
pay of their underlings.

The officer corps has also been slashed
dramatically
, thanks to a new requirement that all high-level staff
complete a difficult exam. By 2010, the 340 generals had been reduced
to 117, the 2,450 colonels to 301, and the 1,824 lieutenant colonels to
467. (Afghan police ranks have military titles.)

Perhaps most significantly, a new, intensive training program called
Focused District Development (FDD) was launched
in late 2007 under which every police officer in specific districts
would be removed en masse for eight weeks of training in
another part of the country. In the meantime, the country's elite
police unit, the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), was to
temporarily take over local policing duties. When the original force
returned, a mentorship team of 14 internationals accompanied them to
provide advice and -- at least theoretically -- to root out corruption.

By early 2009, FDD was claiming success.
Almost one in five police districts which completed the program was now
considered "independently capable." (Before 2008, that number was
zero.) Unfortunately, only one-quarter of the police districts in
Afghanistan have completed the FDD program to date and only 5% of the
country's police units are considered capable of operating on their own.
Even this may be an illusion as an estimated 25% of police recruits
quit every year -- and that's not just among the bad performers. The drop-out
rate
for the 2,500 strong elite ANCOP is an astronomical 65%, making
any training efforts a Sisyphean undertaking.

One year after Obama promised to revamp the Afghan police aid effort
by sending in more trainers and civilian experts, no one is hailing the
results as an outstanding success; few even consider them a half-decent
start. "Operationally, the effort is broken. Assets are misdirected,
poorly managed and misused," wrote
Robert A. Wehrle, a U.S. advisor to the Afghan Ministry of the
Interior, in February 2010 after returning from a 15-month stint in
Kabul. "Graft and corruption in the Afghan forces are endemic, and
coalition forces unwittingly enable that corruption."

Assigning Blame

Who, then, is responsible for this dismal state of affairs? Many have
pointed fingers at the State Department. A joint report from the
inspectors general of the Pentagon and the State Department claims
that the DynCorp contract was particularly badly managed. "The current
[contract does] not provide any specific information regarding what type
of training is required or any measurement of acceptability...
Additionally, the current contract does not include any measurement of
contractor performance."

Indeed, DynCorp's police trainers, who tend to hail from small
American towns, are often remarkably ignorant about life in a war zone. A
DynCorp trainer from Texas, who asked not to be named, typically told
this reporter about his first encounter with mortars in eastern
Afghanistan: "I was mesmerized by what looked like a fireworks display."
Angry U.S. soldiers yelled at him to hit the ground.

Naturally, DynCorp disputes this. "[N]either our military nor
European National police were formed or trained to teach basic law
enforcement skills," Don Ryder, the DynCorp program manager, told
the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a congressionally mandated body established
to offer an independent assessment of contracting practices in Iraq and
Afghanistan. "At DynCorp International we do not build satellites. We
do not design aircraft. We do training and mentoring. That is our core
competency -- and this competency is represented in the DNA of our
30,000 employees worldwide."

Most experts disagree. "DynCorp and [the] State [Department] had too
few people, too few resources, and too little experience building a
police force in the midst of an insurgency," Seth Jones, a political
scientist with the RAND Corporation who spent most of 2009 traveling
with Army Special Forces teams in Afghanistan, told
the commission. "While it may be necessary to utilize [private]
contractors to help execute some security programs -- including
helping
U.S. military or other government officials conduct some
police training -- contractors should not be the lead entity, as they
were from 2003 to 2005."

Not the least of the problem with Dyncorp (or Xe, if it gets the new
training contract) is the cost of hiring such contractors to train
police. Each expatriate police officer makes a six-figure U.S. salary,
at least 50 times more than an Afghan police officer and three times as
much as military mentors.

Alternative Police Programs

Mentoring programs "are based on the assumption that international
mentors are the more knowledgeable actors, whose job it is to impart
their wisdom and expertise to their Afghan junior partners," observed
Andrew Wilder, the former director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation
Unit in Kabul, in his 2007 report on the Afghan police, "Cops
or Robbers?"
"In reality, however, this is often not the case. The
internationals may know much more about the technical aspects of
policing in the West, but the Afghans know much more about the culture
and politics of policing in Afghanistan."

Wilder proposes a radical solution: to dramatically scale back the
plans for an Afghan police force. He notes that the historical role of
police in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas, was limited to
protecting government buildings. "Most civil disputes and criminal
matters, however, were not referred to the police or courts --
which were perceived to be corrupt, costly, and slow to take decisions
-- but were resolved using customary law and institutions." Wilder
believes any counterinsurgency efforts to fight terrorist attacks should
be limited to the Afghan army and possibly a "separate paramilitary
force, or gendarmerie."

"A prevalent view, even among some international police, is that
Afghanistan is unready for civilian policing and holds that the police
must remain a military force while insecurity lasts," writes Tonita
Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College, who
worked as an advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2005. "If
such a view were to prevail, only military solutions for security sector
reform would be considered, and Afghanistan would be caught in a
vicious circle of using force against force without employing other
approaches to secure stability and peace."

According to Robert Perito, who worked with the U.S. Department of
Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance
Program training police in international peace operations from 1995 to
2001, the U.S. government should rethink its entire approach. It should,
he says,
pull back from using contractors to run its police-training program,
turning instead to a strong U.S. federal workforce that is qualified to
undertake police training abroad.

A New Direction?

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO
Training Mission in Afghanistan, admitted
that police training has been a train wreck since the toppling of the
Taliban almost nine years ago. "We weren't doing it right. The most
important thing is to recruit and then train police [before deployment].
It is still beyond my comprehension that we weren't doing that."

The realization that giving illiterate, drug-prone young men a
uniform, badge, and gun (as well as very little money and no training)
was a recipe for corruption and disaster is certainly a first step. But
how to withdraw the 95% of the Afghan police force that is still
incapable of basic policing for months of desperately needed training in
a country with no prior history of such things? That turns out to be a
conundrum, even for President Obama.

On March 12th, the president devoted much of the monthly video
conference call between his Washington national security team and his
senior commanders in Afghanistan to questions about how the problem
should be tackled. "The President has gone through and looked at monthly
recruitment and retention goals because... we're not going to be there
forever," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told
reporters
that day. "Not only are we going to need improved
governance, but we're going to need a police force that can keep the
peace."

If the Pentagon does not dramatically alter the current training
scheme, it doesn't look good for either governance or peace in
Afghanistan. Yet the likelihood remains low indeed that Pentagon
officials will take the advice of a chorus of police experts offering
critical commentary on the mess that is the police training program
there. Instead, it's likely to be more of the same, which means more
private contracting of police training and further disaster. Bizarrely
enough, the Pentagon has given the Space and Missile Defense Command
Contracting Office in Huntsville, Alabama, the task of deciding between
DynCorp and Xe for that new billion-dollar training contract. Plus
ca change, plus c'est la meme chose
, as the French say: The more
things change, the more they stay the same.