Inspectors Call Afghan Police Tracking System a Failure

A system designed to track the success of Afghan police training is deeply flawed, says a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR).

Some 67 out of 101 Afghan National Police (ANP) units rated capable of working independently had regressed within a year, says the report that was published Tuesday.

“It basically has not been a dependable system on which to determine the capability of the Afghan national security forces,” says SIGAR chief Arnold Fields.

Washington-based SIGAR was created by the U.S. Congress in January 2008 to conduct independent investigations of the $39 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance provided to Afghanistan.

The 55-page report, “Actions Needed to Improve the Reliability of Afghan Security Force Assessments,” is bound to complicate the Barack Obama administration’s plans for Afghanistan. One of the key goals for a drawdown of U.S. troop levels by July 2011 is that at least 100,000 trained police officers should be operating in Afghan towns as well as in the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country.

For example, the inspectors requested a visit to the Baghlan-e Jadid police district in northern Afghanistan, which received the top rating in August 2008 and maintained the rating for nine months until it “graduated” in June 2009.

But in February 2010, U.S. police mentors refused to escort the inspectors to Baghlan-e Jadid, because it was “not secure.” International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials also refused, saying that the district was “overrun with insurgents.”

One ISAF official, whose name is withheld in the report, stated that the police force in Baghlan-e Jadid had “withered away to the point that it barely functions.” Another U.S. military official, quoted in the report, said: “Most of their police officers do not even have uniforms, nor has the majority received basic training, either.”

A mentorship team in northern Afghanistan summed up the situation for the inspectors: “The ANP will simply stop doing what we asked them to do as soon as we leave the area. This is especially troublesome in areas of security and patrolling.”

Focused District Development

Until recently, Afghanistan has never really had a national police force, though before the Soviet invasion of 1979 there was a conscription system that produced rank-and-file cops working under a trained officer corps. In 2002, in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat, the Germans set up a police academy in Kabul that offered a five-year training program aimed at bringing back the officer corps. In 2003, the U.S. awarded a small contract to DynCorp to run a train-the-trainers program in Kabul, based on prior work it had done in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

Yet no one spent much time worrying about beat-cop training, least of all the George W. Bush administration, which was already immersed in planning the invasion of Iraq and preferred to operate in Afghanistan with what it liked to call a “light footprint.”

By 2005, security in Kabul was deteriorating sharply. At the same time, the spectacular failure of the U.S. effort to create a brand new police force in Iraq had helped spark a bloody, devastating civil war in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Somewhere in this period, Bush administration officials started to wake up to the possibility that Afghanistan might be heading in the same direction. A series of new contracts were then issued to DynCorp by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

The initial training was widely considered to be a failure. At a June 2008 discussion at the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Congressman John Tierney summed up findings on the 433 Afghan National Police units this way: “Zero are fully capable, three percent are capable with coalition support, four percent are only partially capable, 77 percent are not capable at all, and 68 percent are not formed or not reporting.”

In order to fix these failures, a new, intensive training program called Focused District Development (FDD) was launched, under which every police officer in specific districts would be removed en masse for eight weeks of training in another part of the country. In the meantime, the country’s elite police unit, the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), was to temporarily take over local policing duties. When the original force returned, a mentorship team of 14 internationals accompanied them to provide advice and – at least theoretically – to root out corruption.

By March 2010, FDD was claiming success. One in eight police districts in the whole country was rated as “independently capable.” The rating was even higher for the districts that had completed FDD, where as many as one in five was assessed as independent, a vast improvement over zero percent in 2008.

Flawed Measures

Yet these ratings are now being thrown into question by SIGAR, which says that the “capability measure” system developed by ISAF is itself flawed or based on inadequate data.

For example, the rating system gives high marks to a unit that has sufficient vehicles. But the inspectors discovered that this is not a good enough measure. On a visit to Bati Kot, a top-rated police district in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, they discovered that the district had 10 vehicles on hand, but only three capable drivers.

The inspectors found that as many as 44 percent of police district reports had been missing in a single month when they asked to look at documents filed from September 2009 through February 2010.

Most problematic, according to SIGAR, was the fact that the police units were not able to get adequate supplies like weapons and vehicles, and that police officers often quit as soon as the ratings were completed.

The year-to-date attrition for ANCOP – “the premier force in the ANP” – was about 73 percent on average, with one in western Afghanistan reporting 140 percent attrition, suggesting that police officers were quitting faster than they were being trained. “Mentors said this severe attrition was largely due to actions taken by powerful anti-coalition forces and disappointment over pay levels,” the inspectors reported.

One particularly embarrassing finding by SIGAR is that the Pentagon itself has also allegedly fudged data – claiming to have capability ratings for as many as 559 police units in October 2009, even though only 229 police units were being directly mentored or partnered and assessed as of March 2010.

The new report has already been challenged. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the head of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, said the report was “inaccurate, outdated, and damaging.”

However, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, said that the general picture painted was “accurate.”

(Inter Press Service. This article was produced in partnership with CorpWatch.)