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The Future of Afghan Police Forces

With complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan slated for the end of 2014, the underlying question remains for the future of stability and security in the region.

As foreign troops continue to leave the country, the legacy left remains in their development of Afghan forces. This includes the Afghan National Police (ANP) and National Army who have undertaken the training regime of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). These two forces will be a crucial factor in the ongoing security and stability of Afghanistan. Recent events have begged the question, just how ready are these forces to take control and maintain rule of law?

A recent report by Donald Planty and Robert Perito for the U.S. Institute of Peace highlights the failure of NATO forces to meet Afghanistan’s need for a national police service capable of enforcing the rule of law, controlling crime, and protecting Afghan citizens.

Advisory teams with ISAF through the NATO training mission have been training Afghan forces since 2002. Recently forces have just begun to take the lead in security operations through mentorship of advisory teams. Training development of both forces has shuffled through different organizational programs over the time of insurgency, leading to unsystematic processes and plans.

The forces are having seemingly little positive effect and have become targets to insurgents. Last week, six Afghan policemen were shot dead at their checkpoint with two other policemen deemed missing. Similar attacks against Afghan forces are common, with Taliban insurgents warning that have, and will continue to, infiltrate Afghan security forces in order to carry out insider attacks. This leaves the most recent attack up for debate as to whether the two missing police officers were in fact the assailants. Previous attacks have included rehired Afghan police opening fire on their commander as well as an Afghan soldier turning on two U.S. Marines he was working with, subsequently killing them.

Evidently, insurgents are intent on weakening the government and security forces with international coalition presence in the country drawing to an end. The recent levels of violence are among the highest since the beginning of the 12-year war.

Lack of leadership, high illiteracy rates, drug habits, and ongoing ethnic tension have also lead to high dropout rates in the ANP. This high turnover rate causes setback in ongoing development. After 11 years of ISAF extensive training both the Police Force and National Army should be ready to take more responsibility for security. However, the NATO mission announced last year that no Afghan military units were ready to fight on their own yet. With the recent insider attacks however, NATO troops have backed out of patrolling with Afghan counterparts.

The problem with the Police Force in particular seems to be the fact that they have become militarized due to the overarching role of the U.S. military in their development and their role in responding to the Taliban insurgency. Resulting in the Afghan National Police Force with limited police skills and ultimately unable to enforce rule of law. Consequently, citizens have little confidence or trust in the force.

Foreign troops claim to have put Afghan security development, including police and military training, at the forefront of their extended presence. However, extensive reform is needed if the international community is to trust these forces after NATO’s departure. Most importantly, structured management is especially needed for the transition plan, including regular and cooperative consultations from all bodies involved. While four out of six police training centers in the country have been turned over to Afghan management, ongoing support is still necessary from advisory bodies. If transition plans are to be successful, an important part of this process will be ensuring that Afghan priorities are considered in training plans.

Secondly, a key to future success of all Afghan forces is ensuring that focuses are spilt between the National Army objectives and those of the Police. This crucial separation will aid in the development of Police Forces in areas that pertain to their ultimate mandate of maintaining rule of law. Professionalization will aid in this process, starting with upgrading the Afghan Police Academy to offer additional educational training. Eventually these factors should lead to gaining the support and trust of Afghan citizens, a fundamental factor in determining the success of the ANP.

With extensive recommendations on hand by advisory bodies, it is difficult to understand why initial training targets had been set at an inaccessible level by NATO. With billions of dollars still expected to be injected into the training program in the next five years, there is an obvious need for restructuring. The rounded development of security forces in Afghanistan could have seen greater progress over the past 11 years had funding been directed at the management system to ensure sustainability. Ultimately, if foreign troops are to devote extensive amounts of money and time in this program, better outcomes are needed, especially since the ongoing security of the nation relies on it.

– Beth Mansell


Featured photo: Paternité  The National Guard, Creative Commons, Flickr


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