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New Report Faults Afghan Police Progress

By Dan Robinson
Capitol Hill
18 June 2008

U.S. lawmakers have sharply questioned key officials about a new report that is critical of U.S efforts to develop an effective national police force in Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the Defense Department is disputing the report's findings.

The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, paints a negative picture of what has been accomplished in building a new police force for Afghanistan.

While some progress has been made in training and equipping Afghanistan's army and police, the GAO says the United States still lacks detailed plans and cost estimates for completing and sustaining both forces.

The report calls for more clearly defined objectives and a spending plan, saying that without a capable and self-sustaining army and police, Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for terrorists.

Representative John Tierney, chairman of a House subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs, summarizes some key findings:

"There are 433 Afghanistan National Police units," said Congressman Tierney. "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."

Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Ambassador David T. Johnson, says developing Afghanistan's police has been challenging.

"Afghan capacity is lacking, and we need to link policing to a viable justice and corrections system," said David T. Johnson. "Moreover, in some areas, particularly in the South, a relatively lightly-armed police face heavily-equipped insurgents resulting in casualty rates three times higher than those of the Afghan National Army [ANA]."

He puts the figure of Afghan police trained since 2003 at about 94,000. But while capabilities and professionalism have improved, he adds, long-term international support will be required, along with reforms in Afghanistan's judicial system.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South Asia, Retired Major General Bobby Wilkes, says the original goal of a professional, ethnically-balanced police force of 62,000 by the end of 2010 was revised last year to 82,000, in consultation with the Afghan government and coalition partners.

However, what he calls a resilient insurgency has increased pressure to build an effective police force.

"Police are the most visible expression of the Afghan populace, of the central government's writ and strength," said Bobby Wilkes. "The insurgents recognize this fact and it is no surprise that they are increasingly targeting the ANP."

Wilkes says Afghan police progress lagged in part because the United States did not become significantly involved in police training until 2003, with the Pentagon expanding its role only in late 2005. Other shortcomings include endemic corruption and an insufficient number of trainers and mentors.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department has what he called a bit of a different perspective.

Noting that the Pentagon's own update on progress in Afghanistan has yet to be issued, he said:

"With respect to the Afghan National Security Force Development Program, we believe that it's well-reasoned, that it is a successful program that's building on the Afghan government's capacity to respond to the insurgency, provide stability and implement the rule of law throughout Afghanistan," said Bryan Whitman.

Congressman Tierney referred during the hearing to a Pentagon assessment that only six police units are partially capable, six capable with coalition support, 296 units not capable, 57 not formed and not reporting, with additional pessimistic findings for Afghan border police and counter-narcotics units.

Bipartisan concern about Afghan police training was evident in these comments by Republican Christopher Shays and Democrat Jim Moran.

SHAYS: "I want to go on record in saying, this is typical of what we did in the bad years in Iraq. We under-estimated what we needed for the police and what we needed for security forces."

MORAN: "We have not made Afghanistan a sufficient priority. We have said that time and again, and yet, it doesn't change."

Wednesday's hearing was attended by some Afghanistan political and government leaders, who were invited by lawmakers to provide input on the question of Afghanistan's police force.

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