VUOTO: Afghan police force needs reform

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The commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is conducting an assessment to be released later this month that may include asking for more troops — even beyond the additional troops President Obama has already pledged that will bring the total U.S. forces to 68,000.

At the same time, the president is being urged by lawmakers and advisers to more than double the Afghan National Army and police from 175,000 to 400,000. Yet simply sending more foreign troops or adding more Afghan forces is not the solution, according to many policy analysts. Among the essential ingredients to success is to reform the Afghan National Police so that it is a self-sustaining agent for long-term security.

“The major problem is that the Afghan National Police are so little trusted in many parts of the country that they are feared more than the Taliban,” said Jonathan Morgenstein, a national security analyst at Third Way, a Washington think tank.

Mr. Morgenstein served two tours in Iraq in 2004-05 and in 2008-09. During the second tour, he was a Marine Corps captain and embedded trainer with Iraqi security forces.

“Any increase in soldiers and police must be matched with effective training. It can’t be just a check in the box. It must be an effective increase in new forces that are fully trained,” Mr. Morgenstein told The Washington Times.

Currently, eight-week NATO-conducted training programs of the local police force have shown some promise in creating a cohesive team of police officers dedicated to implementing the rule of law.

Young, illiterate men — many of whom had never held a rifle before — are taught skills needed to do the job and to develop pride in their mission. Once a local security force is trained, embedded mentors are to remain with them for several years.

“During the first seven years [of the war in Afghanistan], there has been no strategy to create an end state. We need to change the debate to focus on the end state,” said Scott Payne, another analyst at Third Way. “We can’t be hasty. We need to do this right.”

During the Sunday-morning talk show circuit, National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones did not rule out increasing troop levels. He said it is first imperative to provide an assessment of the “new strategy” unleashed in March by the Obama administration. This consists of a comprehensive vision that includes security, economic development, good governance and establishing the rule of law. He also acknowledged the importance of building local security.

“We’re definitely going to - in conjunction with our allies - develop the Afghan army at a faster rate, and the Afghan police, so that we can have Afghans in charge of their own destiny in a shorter period of time,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Without a focus on building the police, American and NATO efforts to root out the insurgents becomes an almost endless task, say reports from troops on the ground. As the insurgents are eliminated from one area, they gravitate to another. When the foreign presence leaves to address a more challenging theater, the insurgents simply return to the location just deemed secure.

In short, it appears the war in Afghanistan will continue to be a merry-go-round, to the tune of $4 billion per month for American taxpayers and a rising death toll of its warriors, unless resources are successfully focused on training local forces who can uphold local security.

• Grace Vuoto is editor of Base News, a citizen journalism project of The Washington Times for America’s military community.

About the Author

Grace Vuoto

Grace Vuoto is the editor of BaseNews.com, a community journalism project of the Washington Times devoted to reporting the news from U.S. military bases at home and abroad. She also writes a weekly column, “On Base with Grace.” She is a former editorial writer for The Times. She is also the founder of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal ...

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