- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan aims to strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces, which include both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANP is more than a police force; it is the key to sustaining local security in Afghanistan.

About eight policemen are killed in Afghanistan for every Afghan soldier who dies in counterinsurgency operations, according to a December report by the International Crisis Group, “Policing in Afghanistan: Still Searching for a Strategy.”

The Obama administration recognizes that the ANA is only part of the solution to bringing stability to Afghanistan. The training of the ANA is often effective and leads to success in curbing violence. Nevertheless, though the ANA acquits itself well against the Taliban, it is not present in every district. It and coalition partners concentrate in areas with high insurgent activity.The ANA moves from place to place to combat high levels of violence.

The ANP, on the other hand, is in every district in Afghanistan. Yet when the ANA moves to another area, there often is a security void in local areas, for the ANP cannot sustain peace and order on its own.

The ANP is ineffective, corrupt and ill-trained, according to international observers. Often there is no local protection for the population as the insurgents inevitably seep back into areas vacated by the ANA. The ANP is the missing link in providing a self-sustaining security apparatus in Afghanistan.

The International Crisis Group report indicates that one of the major problems afflicting the ANP is rampant corruption. High-ranking positions often are purchased, with the purchaser intending the position as an “investment” whose funds are to be recouped through bribes and extortion. Corruption takes many forms, including demands for money from travelers at checkpoints.

An international effort to reform the ANP began in 2003, led by Germany. In July 2005, a Combined Security Transition Command assumed responsibility for the mission. The State Department contracted civilian police trainers to reform the ANP, but those trainers were unable to accompany their charges on operational missions in areas of high insurgent activity.

Civilian police mentors do not possess the military skills to keep ANP officers alive in a combat situation. Civilian police trainers provide the law enforcement skills needed, but not the wartime skills necessary for survival and success in providing security in the villages. The ANP are armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, belt-fed machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, but so are the militants they face.

In late 2006, the U. S. Army, through the National Guard-led Task Force Phoenix, assumed responsibility for the training and development of the ANP. Task Force Phoenix was not given any additional resources with which to accomplish this mission and, as a result, had limited success. The men and women of Task Force Phoenix assembled ad-hoc teams from existing teams that had been assigned to the ANA.

In districts where Police Mentor Teams are present, improvement has been seen in areas ranging from training to professionalism and reduction of corruption. Yet the International Security Assistance Force indicates that only about a third of the needed adviser-mentors are available to assist in the development of the ANP. Approximately 1,200 Marines have been deployed to conduct police training missions in the Regional Command (RC) South and RC West as an emergency risk-mitigation measure in nine hard-pressed districts.

The new plan for Afghanistan released by Mr. Obama promises to fully man the ANP advising mission, and that is a good start. Yet the ANP needs much more attention as it provides the local guarantor of security - especially in the absence of the ANA - while still having law enforcement responsibility.

The Afghan National Police is more than a police force; it is the key to sustaining local security in Afghanistan.

• Sgt. 1st Class Morgan Sheeran is a national guardsman residing in Cincinnati. He was an embedded adviser with the Afghan National Police in 2007-08.

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