Illiterate, Corrupt and Trigger-Happy German Trainers Describe Pitiful State of Afghan Police


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Part 3: 'The Taliban Pay More Money'

The lack of reliability of the graduates is also a problem. In purely economic terms, says Italian Brigadier General Carmelo Burgio, it is more attractive for the men to join the Taliban. "They pay more money," he told the New York Times. And despite recent pay raises that brought monthly wages up to as much as $240 (€180), this still isn't enough to feed a family of four. Instead, the low wage level creates a breeding ground for corruption, which is already commonplace, and for the tendency to follow the traditional rules of Afghan culture instead of Western-style laws.

In this culture, nothing is more important than friendship and family loyalties. Brigadier General Khudadad Agah, the head of the training center in Kabul, is familiar with the consequences. "One has a brother who is with the Taliban, another has an uncle," he told the New York Times. "We go on an operation and one brother calls another and they know we're coming."

No one knows how many of the 98,000 police officers trained to date are actually performing their jobs, how many are merely shown on salary lists and how many have been recruited by the Taliban. The infiltration of the Afghan National Police (ANP) by the insurgents is a nightmare for everyone involved. Last November, five British soldiers died in a hail of bullets fired by a police officer that they had been working with.

No Better than Highwaymen

One of the grim experiences of international trainers is that some police academy graduates promptly fall into line with the usual customs and collect bribes at checkpoints. The image of the police, reports one of the German officers, is hardly better than that of the Taliban. "Among the population, they are denounced as highwaymen." According to a United Nations poll, half of all Afghans believe that their law enforcement officials are corrupt.

The nations involved in the training program have come up with various strategies to improve this miserable reputation. "We're trying to train (the Afghan cadets) to respect and relate to people," Italian police officer Massimo Deiana told Newsweek. Those are skills that might be more important to the country's development than marksmanship.

The Germans have decided to accompany the novices on patrol more often than in the past, so that they can intervene if necessary. In relatively safe areas, this means that one Afghan police officer is escorted by four German police officers and four German soldiers.

Extremely Dangerous

The approach is called FDD, or Focused District Development. The idea behind it is to pacify roughly 400 districts, one district at a time. Once the military has secured an area, the police move in and provide the security needed for economic development. But the German trainers in the field believe that the method is extremely dangerous and ineffectual. "FDD means getting killed," they say.

The Americans, one inspector argues, have suffered considerable losses during these patrols. Chahar Dara in Kunduz province, where up to 140 people died in September 2009 when tanker trucks hijacked by Taliban fighters were bombed at the behest of German Colonel Georg Klein, was an FDD project that failed.

As soon as the military has left an area, says the inspector, the Taliban return and make an example of police officers: "They target and kill police officers, as symbols of the hated government in Kabul." The officials at German Federal Police headquarters in Potsdam are aware of this risk. "The Afghan National Police remains the insurgents' main target in all parts of the country," according to an internal report.

'Failure Is Inevitable'

The German Interior Ministry, on the other hand, recently stated: "German police officers working in mixed teams with military police in the context of FDD are not exposed to any elevated threat situation." That assessment, however, appears to be largely at odds with information contained in weekly internal situation reports submitted by police on the ground in Afghanistan. It also seems to be contradicted by a conclusion the government reached on Feb. 10, when it began defining the German military's Afghanistan mission as a "non-international, armed conflict" -- in other words, as a war.

"Until now, the only places where we operated within the FDD framework were safe districts," says a German inspector. But, as he points out, the risk increases dramatically as the officers move farther and farther away from their bases. For this reason, the German police organizations are in a latent conflict with government officials. The Association of German Criminal Police Officers is calling for a suspension of the mentoring program and a "strategy shift," arguing that "continued failure is inevitable." Konrad Freitag, the head of the German police union, sees no room for negotiation. "German police officers have no business being in the field," says Freitag.

Extra pay of €110 a day has kept it relatively easy to find sufficient numbers of volunteers for the job. But reports by returning police officers and a barrage of criticism from the unions are beginning to have an effect. The number of applicants is declining, and the German Federal Police is already looking into ways to reactivate retirees or hand out decorations.

On the Most-Wanted List

But given the messy situation, this will hardly do any good. The German leadership has simply experienced too many negative events. Take, for example, the case of Taliban commander Haji Malik, who regularly visited Police General Ghulam Patang in Mazar-e-Sharif. Malik was on the military list of most-wanted insurgents, and he was believed to be behind many bombing attacks. But Patang refused to arrest the man, despite intervention by the German military. He was highly regarded in the region, the police chief explained, and besides, there was no official arrest warrant.

When the pressure became too great, a typically Afghan solution was agreed to. Malik went to prison voluntarily, as part of a deal under which the military officials had three days to come up with evidence against him. But no evidence was found.

On the fourth day, Malik left the prison as a free man. The Taliban militant warmly embraced his former captors and vowed not to set off any more bombs.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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