- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

BARAKI BARAK, Afghanistan | Olive-green hulks of old Soviet tanks loomed above the dusty valley where American soldiers and Afghan National Police (ANP) gathered on a recent Saturday in this country’s latest experience of foreign military mentoring.

Under a glaring sun that already was withering at midmorning, eight Afghan police officers looked on as 14 Americans from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division hauled great pieces of plywood and paper and assembled a series of targets. Only one Afghan seemed eager to help. Another didn’t even wear boots, arriving in sandals with his AK-47 slung laxly across his shoulders.

When the Afghans were finished shooting, the targets were littered with bullet holes but just a third of the ammunition appeared to have hit the mark.

“It’s very difficult,” said Sgt. James Ramirez, a military police officer with the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment.

The commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has made the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) a major objective for all U.S. military in the country, not just police mentors.

In an assessment due to be released later this month, Gen. McChrystal is expected to call for doubling ANSF strength by 2011. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is to have up to 240,000 men and the ANP 160,000.

This will require not only a significantly larger commitment of coalition money and manpower but also cooperation from the Afghan government.

“The long pole [in turning around Afghanistan] is the police force,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told editors and reporters of The Washington Times on Wednesday. Afghan police, he said, are “terribly corrupt,” and the U.S.-led coalition has not had sufficient trainers to deal with the problem.

“Improving the police is the number one thing we can do from a security standpoint,” said Maj. Todd Polk, commander of Able Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, which includes a police mentor team.

Military police from the 10th Mountain Division have been working with about 30 ANP officers since January in Baraki Barak, a town of about 150,000 some 50 miles south of Kabul. However, some of the Afghan officers have never attended one of the country’s nine police-training academies. Some arrive for U.S. mentoring having never learned how to fire or even carry a weapon.

“They actually have to be dedicated, pay attention and have the discipline to be able to handle [the training] on top of their regular missions and patrols that they’re doing,” Sgt. Joe McAuliff said.

It’s a lot to ask of recruits, many just 18 years old.

“They can be their own worst enemy,” Maj. Polk said. “You patrol with the ANP, and guys just don’t seem very professional. If we have them search the house, they’re taking stuff [from] the house. It’s up to us to make them as professional as possible, to teach them the rule of law, show them how to do a proper search and then hold them accountable.”

“It’s going to take time,” agreed Lt. Rudolf Zombek. “Things are not going to improve from the 14th century to the 21st century overnight.”

Lt. Zombek sees progress but said he thinks support from the central government is key.

For example, fuel rationing forces the ANP to choose between patrolling and powering its police station. So far, the police have chosen to patrol.

“They need to make sure they can pay for all of this,” Lt. Zombek said. “Because we’re demanding that they go from no system to having an American system. … I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s very difficult.”

With a backlog at Afghan police academies, Col. David Haight, commander of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, is working to get Czech and Turkish provincial reconstruction teams certified to train recruits. He also demands that Afghan forces always accompany his soldiers on patrol.

Col. Haight, who served under Gen. McChrystal three times in Iraq in Special Forces operations and is familiar with the general’s thinking, says developing the ANP is critical if Afghanistan — at war since the 1979 Soviet invasion — is ever to stand on its own.

“I believe that strategically, developing the police is even more important than the army,” he said. “They are the first line of representation that we see of the Afghan government.”

Historically, ANP officers have not patrolled their own provinces. The Afghan government was responsible for this policy, which was meant to keep tribal loyalties from breeding corruption and favoritism.

However, the result has been that police are less invested in the security of their areas of responsibility and have minimal respect from the people they are supposed to protect.

“The people have to see not just one good event,” Col. Haight said. “They have to see consistent, good service by the police over a period of weeks, months, years before they’ll trust them.”

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