- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan — National police are dying at a record rate so far this year and need urgent financial and technical support if a robust Taliban insurgency is to be defeated in distant provinces, the Interior Ministry says.

More than 200 police officers have been killed since late March, with a marked increase in suicide and roadside bombings compared to last year, ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told The Washington Times.

“We’ve lost a big number of our police forces in attacks this year. We are witnessing big casualties,” he said.

Police are more vulnerable than Afghan army and international security forces because they are often the only law enforcement on the ground in isolated areas of the southern and eastern provinces, where the Taliban are most active, Mr. Bashary said.

The deadliest recent attack on police was a Taliban ambush last week in southern Zabul province that left 16 officers dead. On Wednesday, a district police chief in eastern Paktika province was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle.

In another incident last Friday, militants attacked a police officer’s house in southern Ghazni province, killing five members of his family, according to local officials, indicating that even relatives or those who cooperate with police are targeted.

The spokesman noted that despite some improvements in staffing and training, the police force still has “low capacity and capability” to cope with an enemy that regularly strikes with heavy weapons such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

“What the police have to face them and resist are AK-47s, and at the maximum, PKMs. That’s it,” he said, referring to a higher-caliber Soviet-made machine gun.

The combination of poor equipment and low salaries has made it difficult to recruit sufficient numbers of police, especially in risk areas, he said.

Some districts with populations of more than 100,000 have relied on just 25-30 men whose duties are stretched over law enforcement, protecting civilians from roving Taliban militants and drug eradication.

The average Afghan policeman makes just $70 a month, but the Interior Ministry still expects to boost ranks by 20,000 men from the current level of roughly 62,000 over the next two years.

Officers only will receive a raise in salary due to continued funding shortages, Mr. Bashary said.

By comparison, Afghan army troops earn $100 a month plus up to $60 more for travel expenses. The Taliban is known to pay four times this amount thanks to high drug profits.

Analysts say lackluster salaries and slim prospects for advancement have the added backlash of encouraging graft and predatory tendencies in the Afghan police to a degree that has fed distrust among the people they are meant to protect.

“Often little more than private militias, [the national police] are regarded in nearly every district more as a source of insecurity than protection,” said a recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

“Instead of gaining the confidence of communities, their often-predatory behavior alienates locals further.”

To compensate, some provinces have seen the formation of traditional tribal policing systems. The Ghazni provincial police chief, for example, has said he could summon at least 500 militia if needed, with similar claims from officials in other troubled provinces.

A United Nations-World Bank report released in November says drug-related corruption has severely undercut efforts to combat opium production, which is expected to top last year’s record harvest.

Mr. Bashary conceded that corruption is a grave threat in all its forms, calling on foreign partners to help the Afghan government provide better pay and equipment to police.

“The international community needs to pay much more attention to the police because it’s them you’ll find on the ground engaging with people and their everyday needs,” he said. “They need to be much supported and much enhanced if we want good results here.”

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