Published on Monday, March 22, 2010 by TomDispatch.com
The Pentagon faces a tough choice: Should it award a new contract to Xe (formerly Blackwater), a company made infamous  when its employees killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007, or to DynCorp, a company made infamous  in Bosnia in 1999 when some of its employees were caught trafficking young girls for sex?
This billion-dollar contract will be the linchpin of a training program for the Afghan National Police, who are theoretically to be drilled in counterinsurgency tactics that will help defeat the Taliban and bring security to impoverished, war-torn Afghanistan. The program is also considered a crucial component of the Obama administration's plan for turning the war around. Ironically, Xe was poised  to win the contract until a successful appeal  by DynCorp last week threw the field wide open.
Some people in the
The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can't put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won't be able to begin a drawdown of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.
"The Obama administration's strategy for the Afghan police is to increase numbers, enlarge the ‘train and equip' program, and engage the police in the fight against the Taliban," says  Robert Perito, an expert on police training at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of a new book, The Police in War . "This approach has not worked in the past, and doing more of the same will not achieve success."
When it comes to police training, the use of private contractors is not unusual -- and neither is failure. North Carolina-based Xe has, in fact, been training  the Afghan border police for more than two years, and Virginia-based DynCorp has been doing the same  for the Afghan uniformed police for more than seven years now. Nonetheless, the mismanagement of the $7 billion spent on police training over the last eight years, partly attributed to lax 
Of the training programs run by the NATO Training Mission  out of Camp Eggers in Kabul, the Afghan capital, only DynCorp's component is even fully staffed. The company supplies 782 former American police officers to dozens of training centers and military bases scattered around the country to work with the
In a desperate attempt to offset this shortage of trainers, Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has proposed  the dispatching of 3,000 police officers annually to
In May 2009, I visited several training sites for the Afghan security forces in and around
"After three weeks in the
Three months later, a report for the European Commission written by Scott Chilton and Tim Bremmers, two police experts, in collaboration with Eckart Schiewek, a senior United Nations official, concluded that this approach was a disaster-in-the-making. It was, they claimed, causing an "absolute irresponsible downgrading" of the police force. "Our view is that the spiraling increase in police deaths and wounding will further increase with quick-fix recruiting, poor training, and equipping."
Absurd as it may sound, this program is considered better conceived than many of the older training programs the Afghan government launched with
A 2008 report  by the well-respected International Crisis Group pointed out that such rapid-induction programs had the perverse effect of actually lowering the average literacy rate and effectiveness of the Afghan police force -- and that's without even considering the security problems created by those drop-outs with guns.
Eight Years of Failures
Yet no one spent much time worrying about beat-cop training, least of all the Bush administration, which was already immersed in planning the invasion of
By 2005, security in
State Department planners seem to have taken an inordinately long time to wake up to the basic problems that
"There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up," Brigadier General Gary O'Brien, former deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, told  the Canadian Press news agency in March 2007. "They are part of the problem. They do not provide security for the people -- they are the robbers of the people."
Salaries are not the only budget shortfall.
In another glaring example  of what a lack of resources has led to, Hazeb Emerging Business, an Afghan company hired to maintain the force's weapons, used hammers and nails to "repair" grenade launchers, because they had no idea how to fix donated weapons. In perhaps the most widely reported mishap, AEY Inc., based in Florida, and described  by the New York Times as "a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur," dispatched to the Afghan security forces 100 million Chinese cartridges, some 40 years old and in "decomposing packaging," under a $10 million Pentagon contract.
In a country where the official literacy rate is pegged at an optimistic 30% -- some estimates put the rate among police recruits at closer to 5%, or even less -- most of any Western-style training curriculum proves strikingly irrelevant. To make things worse, one in five volunteers for police training is a drug-abuser, a statistic that rises to 60% in southern provinces like
Not surprisingly, then, capability assessments of the Afghan police have been less than encouraging. 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 of that moment 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."
A new plan was drawn up under which dramatic changes were made, including the raising of police salaries to $180 a month in 2010 (and in high-risk areas up to $240). In addition, increasing numbers of police salaries are now paid directly and electronically to bank accounts or cell phones, which means it's harder for officers to dip into the meager pay of their underlings.
The officer corps has also been slashed dramatically , thanks to a new requirement that all high-level staff complete a difficult exam. By 2010, the 340 generals had been reduced to 117, the 2,450 colonels to 301, and the 1,824 lieutenant colonels to 467. (Afghan police ranks have military titles.)
Perhaps most significantly, a new, intensive training program called Focused District Development (FDD) was launched  in late 2007 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 early 2009, FDD was claiming success.  Almost one in five police districts which completed the program was now considered "independently capable." (Before 2008, that number was zero.) Unfortunately, only one-quarter of the police districts in Afghanistan have completed the FDD program to date and only 5% of the country's police units are considered capable of operating on their own. Even this may be an illusion as an estimated 25% of police recruits quit every year -- and that's not just among the bad performers. The drop-out rate  for the 2,500 strong elite ANCOP is an astronomical 65%, making any training efforts a Sisyphean undertaking.
One year after Obama promised to revamp the Afghan police aid effort by sending in more trainers and civilian experts, no one is hailing the results as an outstanding success; few even consider them a half-decent start. "Operationally, the effort is broken. Assets are misdirected, poorly managed and misused," wrote  Robert A. Wehrle, a
Who, then, is responsible for this dismal state of affairs? Many have pointed fingers at the State Department. A joint report from the inspectors general of the Pentagon and the State Department claims  that the DynCorp contract was particularly badly managed. "The current [contract does] not provide any specific information regarding what type of training is required or any measurement of acceptability... Additionally, the current contract does not include any measurement of contractor performance."
Indeed, DynCorp's police trainers, who tend to hail from small American towns, are often remarkably ignorant about life in a war zone. A DynCorp trainer from
Naturally, DynCorp disputes this. "[N]either our military nor European National police were formed or trained to teach basic law enforcement skills," Don Ryder, the DynCorp program manager, told  the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a congressionally mandated body established  to offer an independent assessment of contracting practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. "At DynCorp International we do not build satellites. We do not design aircraft. We do training and mentoring. That is our core competency -- and this competency is represented in the DNA of our 30,000 employees worldwide."
Most experts disagree. "DynCorp and [the] State [Department] had too few people, too few resources, and too little experience building a police force in the midst of an insurgency," Seth Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation who spent most of 2009 traveling with Army Special Forces teams in Afghanistan, told  the commission. "While it may be necessary to utilize [private] contractors to help execute some security programs -- including helping U.S. military or other government officials conduct some police training -- contractors should not be the lead entity, as they were from 2003 to 2005."
Not the least of the problem with Dyncorp (or Xe, if it gets the new training contract) is the cost of hiring such contractors to train police. Each expatriate police officer makes a six-figure
Alternative Police Programs
Mentoring programs "are based on the assumption that international mentors are the more knowledgeable actors, whose job it is to impart their wisdom and expertise to their Afghan junior partners," observed Andrew Wilder, the former director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul, in his 2007 report on the Afghan police, "Cops or Robbers?"  "In reality, however, this is often not the case. The internationals may know much more about the technical aspects of policing in the West, but the Afghans know much more about the culture and politics of policing in
Wilder proposes a radical solution: to dramatically scale back the plans for an Afghan police force. He notes that the historical role of police in
"A prevalent view, even among some international police, is that Afghanistan is unready for civilian policing and holds that the police must remain a military force while insecurity lasts," writes Tonita Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College, who worked as an advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2005. "If such a view were to prevail, only military solutions for security sector reform would be considered, and
According to Robert Perito, who worked with the U.S. Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program training police in international peace operations from 1995 to 2001, the U.S. government should rethink its entire approach. It should, he says , pull back from using contractors to run its police-training program, turning instead to a strong
A New Direction?
Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO Training
The realization that giving illiterate, drug-prone young men a uniform, badge, and gun (as well as very little money and no training) was a recipe for corruption and disaster is certainly a first step. But how to withdraw the 95% of the Afghan police force that is still incapable of basic policing for months of desperately needed training in a country with no prior history of such things? That turns out to be a conundrum, even for President Obama.
On March 12th, the president devoted much of the monthly video conference call between his
If the Pentagon does not dramatically alter the current training scheme, it doesn't look good for either governance or peace in
© 2010 Pratap Chatterjee
Pratap Chatterjee is the author  of Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War . He is the former executive director of CorpWatch and a shareholder of both Halliburton and KBR.
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