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Afghans Purge Hundreds of Top Cops as NATO Cheers

by Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room

Over the past year, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior has fired hundreds of leading police officials, according to a forthcoming NATO report on the Afghan security services. And that purge is just the beginning, even as police ranks are scheduled to expand.

As of November, the newly-appointed Afghan interior minister, Bismullah Mohammadi, has “changed 32 top ministerial leaders and many top provincial leaders” in his first four months on the job, according to a report on institutional development at the ministries of Interior and Defense prepared for the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. That’s on top of the elimination of “hundreds” of top police “leadership positions leadership positions deemed to be wasteful or redundant” over the past year. And “thousands of patronage positions” are expected to be jettisoned in the coming months.

Even though NATO is rushing to get more police in uniform so the cops can help Afghan soldiers take over security responsibilities from the U.S. by 2014, NATO is cheering the purge on. The Afghan police have had persistent problems with competence, corruption and even basic literacy. The report, acquired by Danger Room and scheduled for public release on Thursday, judges that Mohammadi’s firings, along with other recent “major reforms” to the ministry, will “help reduce bureaucracy, negative incentives and corruption.”

NATO is also hopeful about Mohammadi’s new squad. The new deputy for strategy and policy is getting rid of “thousands of patronage positions” from the ministry. The new logistics chief is “honestly assessing shortfalls” in equipping the cops, after accountability was “negligible” last summer. The new commander of the elite police force, the Afghan National Civil Order Police, is stressing “ethics, training [and] professionalism.”

If that sounds like faint praise, it speaks to how far the Afghan police still have to go before they can keep the peace without U.S. mentorship. Police units are often short on necessities like fuel and ammunition, and at times they use raids on suspected Taliban as opportunities to shake down civilians. Others make money on the side by helping the drug trade. Not many of them can read beyond a kindergarten level.

NATO’s training effort for the cops has its own problems. In November, its leader, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell said he was still short hundreds of police trainers. The U.S. Army has made up for some of that by re-awarding a billion-dollar training contract to DynCorp, the same contractor that’s mentored the cops for nearly a decade’s worth of under-performance. One of Gen. David Petraeus’ first Afghanistan initiatives was to deputize “local police units” – don’t call them “militias” — as an auxiliary force.

NATO sees reasons for optimism in the months ahead. A new law provides retirement benefits for cops, which helps get rid of “Soviet-era” police brass who’ve stuck around for a paycheck, something the report says “increased corruption in the lower ranks” by example. Over the next year, the interior ministry will add four more police training facilities around Afghanistan, allowing 18,000 more cops to be trained at any given time.

And the defense ministry, which is considered a more competent institution, is becoming more closely involved in the police’s development, “transferring small arms” to its sister ministry, “formalizing joint training, and improving information sharing.” It’s part of what NATO wants to see in 2012: less NATO teaching Afghans how to soldier and police, and more Afghans teaching each other those skills.

Whether that can happen remains to be seen. The report goes into a lot of detail about institutional improvements in both the defense and interior ministries. But it notes that even as the ministries are scheduled to add another 39,000 soldiers and cops this year — despite the Interior Ministry’s purge — poor literacy rates remain a problem: 50,000 security personnel have received literacy training, with 42,000 currently enrolled. And it doesn’t mention any pay increases for security forces, even though the Taliban’s estimated pay is about even or even better than what the Afghan government dishes out — another factor contributing to poor performance and corruption.

If there’s change coming to the Afghan police, the U.S. needs to rush to put it in place: by 2014, U.S. troops are supposed to relinquish a leading role in securing Afghanistan to the national police and army. But don’t think that’s going to mean the end of U.S. involvement in the Afghan security forces. The NATO training command estimates that it’ll cost $6 billion a year, indefinitely, to sustain the security infrastructure the U.S. is building — and given the dire state of Afghanistan’s economy, that cash is likely to come in large part from the U.S. taxpayer. The U.S. can buy good cops or it can buy bad cops, but chances are it’s going to be paying no matter what.  Please see the original here

January 25, 2011 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, DynCorp, NATO, Safety and Security Issues | , , , | Leave a comment