- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Haidari knows that when he graduates from the Kabul police academy this month, he will take on one of the most dangerous — and most poorly paid — jobs in Afghanistan.

But what worries him more than the Taliban extremists, who increasingly are aiming their attacks at the lightly armed and poorly equipped police, is the thought he may be posted to work in a remote region under a corrupt commander.

My friends who have been sent to the provinces say their officers have told them to steal from the people and take money from criminals, the 23-year-old recruit said just days before his graduation ceremony. I”m scared of getting a police commander who works with the Taliban.

There are plenty of reasons for a new officer to be uneasy. Police are dying at a record rate this year, easy targets for Taliban forces who, after losing hundreds of fighters in head-on confrontations with NATO forces last summer, have turned to suicide and hit-and-run attacks.

The Washington Times reported in early June that more than 200 police officers had been killed in the previous 10 weeks.

These days, [the Taliban] are killing police, not army soldiers so much, Mr. Haidari said as several fellow trainees nodded. We are still ready.

The Taliban appears to have adopted a deliberate strategy of trying to frighten off new police recruits, demonstrating there is no place where they are safe. At least 35 persons, most of them police trainees, were killed in a June 17 bus bombing directly outside the police headquarters in Kabul.

Strategically, it makes sense to attack Afghan security forces where … it gives people a complex about whether it is worth joining, said Hekmat Karzai, head of the Kabul-based Center for Conflict and Peace Studies.

The police are especially vulnerable because they are spread so thinly. In some districts, there are just 25 to 30 officers to serve a population of 100,000 people, providing daily law enforcement while battling insurgents when necessary and lending a hand in drug eradication.

In remote areas of the country, the only force that you can find that is active there, that is working there, is the police, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary.

When they do encounter the Taliban, the police are poorly equipped for the fight. While insurgents strike with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, police carry only AK-47s and other dated weaponry.

With all the dangers, police officers earn $70 a month — about half of what army troops are paid — and up to $10 of that is often siphoned off by corrupt officials before payday, said one veteran officer who requested anonymity.

We love our country and are working without salary sometimes, said Maj. Gen. Said Zal, a ranking officer at the Kabul academy.

Some officers have not been paid in more than a year, making them more likely to turn to illicit activities such as protecting this year’s record opium poppy crop.

District command posts have been sold to the highest bidder, who then can glean drug profits, a recent report from the International Crisis Group said.

However, efforts are under way to ensure a more honest and capable national police force.

The European Union is taking over police training duties from Germany, and has committed to sending advisers to restive provinces where they will work with the Afghan government to attract and train new recruits.

The plan is to add 20,000 police to the current level of about 62,000 over the next couple of years, Mr. Bashary said.

The government is also putting together a 5,000-man reserve force to be based in the central provinces, where it can provide quick-response support wherever police are attacked, he said. They will go in and pound the enemy, and then withdraw.

Another program aims to hire 11,200 auxiliary officers to supplement forces in restive parts of the country, notably southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Critics counter that the 10-day training course for auxiliary policemen will undermine the overall strength and integrity of the national police, increasing the likelihood of graft and infiltration by criminal elements.

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