By Andreas Ulrich and Alfred Weinzierl
Things were different when the Germans first became involved in Afghanistan. Back then, the training program usually lasted three years. "The applicants were excellent," says an inspector, "motivated and educated." They became good police officers, but there were too few of them. Many were sent to the violent south of the country, says the German inspector. By now, he adds, one-third have been killed and a third have disappeared.
The Americans advocated shortening the training program. Now the Afghan learn how to march, arrest people and shoot in an eight-week course. What they don't learn is how to read and write.
Trainers complain that they spend half of their time translating into the local languages, Pashto and Dari. They say that many recruits are unable to concentrate for more than half an hour, and that often their poor motor skills mean they are unable to do much beyond simply walking in a straight line.
In fact, most of the applicants are rural laborers with no formal education. About 20 percent of the cadets fail the drug tests, and 90 percent are illiterate, a rate higher than the national average.
When the well-meaning planners at German Federal Police headquarters in Potsdam near Berlin were still feeling ambitious, they sent forensics kits and electron microscopes to the training centers. Today the equipment sits on the shelves gathering dust. As one instructor says, confessions are all that count in the world of the Afghan police. The instructor once asked one of the Afghan officers how he obtained confessions. The officer replied by pointing, somewhat shyly, to his baton.
In the seventh week of training, the police cadets are expected to demonstrate their shooting skills. The test requires them to hit a life-sized cardboard figure at 50 meters (164 feet). Each cadet is allowed 60 shots from an automatic weapon, and 42 must hit the target.
Some of the students are good marksmen, hitting the target 60 times. One cadet even managed to hit it 62 times, because the man standing next to him was shooting a little too far to one side.
Those who score below 42 hits receive a certificate stating that they are not qualified to shoot guns. Nevertheless, they are handed a service weapon at the end of the training course.
"They'll be out there on a checkpoint with an automatic weapon in a couple weeks," one of the trainers told the New York Times. "I wouldn't want to be an innocent civilian downrange of them."
This is a state of affairs that affects not only the security of people in Afghanistan, but calls the security strategy of the Western world into question. For years, it has been clear that there can be no withdrawal of American troops without a police force that functions at least halfway decently.
Three weeks ago, US President Barack Obama asked military officials in a briefing whether the Afghan police would be ready when the first units begin leaving the country in July 2011. Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who has been head of the American police training program since November, briefed the president via video teleconference. According to Newsweek, what he reported did not sit well with Obama at all. "It's inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren't training the police," Caldwell said. "All we did was give them a uniform." The president was reportedly shocked. "It's mind-boggling," he said.
Caldwell estimates that no more than a quarter of Afghanistan's roughly 98,000 police officers has received any formal instruction. This has led to a high death toll. According to a classified German Foreign Ministry report, about 1,200 police officers died in 2007, 1,150 in 2008 and, by the fall of 2009, 760. Most were killed in ambushes, traffic accidents -- or by their own weapons.
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