Even as the Pentagon released news of progress in the U.S. program to reform the Aghan National Police, that organization is responsible for a major crime wave afflicting the Afghan population, said South Asia experts and congressional sources.
Even though the Taliban are unpopular, the Afghan people give them passive support because of the unpopular and corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai, these sources said.
According to Brookings Institution analyst, Vanda Felba-Brown, what the ordinary Afghan population wants “is suppression of ordinary street crime and the rule of law” which the ANP currently renders impossible. Officially, the functions of the ANP are to man check points that monitor the movements of suspicious individuals, help identify IEDs and suicide bombers, and provide intelligence.
But Felbab-Brown said that in fact the ANP is the institution seen by the populace as the “ most corrupt and unresponsive of the needs of of the people.”
She added that the police play a dominant role in various criminal rings and have made an industry of kidnaping as well as having set up a dense network of checkpoints on busy roads where police extort huge fees from anyone using them. In addition, police extortion of farmers is so rampant that they no longer attempt to transport their crops to market but “simply use them as subsistence,” she said.
President Barack Obama had said he plans to field an Afghan police force of 82,000 by 2011, as part of a strategy that ensures the safety of the average inhabitant and acts to increase popular support for the government, according to Alexander Thier of the U.S. Institute for Peace.
The new U.S. program is run by the Regional Chief Advisory Commands (RPACs) which provides oversight to Police Mentor Teams in the city of Kabul containing three million inhabitants. RPACs also monitors the Kabul Police Chief, Lt. Gen. Abdul Rahman, four zone headquarters, and 30 district police stations. RPACs coordinates with the Combined Security Assistance Command-Afghanistan ,the International Security Assistance Force, the U.S. State Department, and the Afghan government, according to Pentagon documents.
But Thier and Felba-Brown said that the ANP’s continuing misconduct is a key element undercutting U.S. efforts to win widespread Afghani support. Said Thier: “A number of people in Taliban controlled areas have become neutral because they don’t support the Karzai government” which has not presented anything positive that would be worth the risk of defying the Taliban.”
The public’s dislike of the ANP is even more harmful to U.S. strategy aims since the police are one government element that is in constant contact with the population,” a congressional source said.
Mike O’Hanlon, military analyst at Brookings agreed: “The Taliban are deeply unpopular,” but the Karzai government has provided no assurances that Afghanis cooperating with U.S. forces “can be certain that they will not be retaliated against.”
The Taliban, who use terror against the public, “at least do not prey on it,” a congressional source said, adding:. “The Taliban use terror to organize and manipulate the population at will, but at least the provide a measure of public order and safety which the Karzai government seems unable to do, leaving a vacuum of government at the local level.”
The Taliban have also acted with shrewd cunning in another area. Where the surge in Iraq was a success, thanks to U.S. Special Operations man-hunting teams and the recruiting of the tribes, much of the latter was due to al-Qaeda’s exclusive emphasis on religion, and its attempt to ignore tribal custom by having tribal women marry al-Qaeda, something forbidden by tribal law, according to recent statements by counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen.
Another key factor that soured the Sunni tribes was the excessive brutality of the al-Qaeda operatives who mutilated their victims, staged many killings and suicide bombings and beheaded their enemies in mosques, According to U.S. Army after action reports on the surge.
O’Hanlon again emphasized that the Taliban, while applying terror, do it in carefully calibrated doses, and the Afghan populace has not yet reached “a tipping point” that would result in turning against them.
President Hamid Karzai is a problem because of his divide and rule policies, said O’Hanlon. Kilcullen has written that Karzai is a member of the Popalzai tribe who has prevented leading tribes from building any strong, rival organizations of their own. At the same time, he has given government offices to minor tribes, leaving an opening for the Taliban who have been skilled in posing as defenders of the disenfranchised tribes and who have formed alliances with the dispossessed tribal brokers.
Much of the Karazi government is seen as corrupt, weak or oppressive since many of government officials see the government, not in terms of public welfare, but as a machine for ensuring private enrichment, congressional sources said. Kabul’‘s provincial and district governors have no popular backing in the areas they control, said these sources.
Under terms of one U.S. training initiative, Afghan law enforcement officials are brought to Kabul for advanced training with international law enforcement officials with the focus resting on countering IEDs or roadside bombs, communications upgrades, advanced intelligence collection and proved border surveillance.
Under the U.S. Focused District Development program, the members of the local ANP are replaced the Afghan National Civil Order Police, given a U.S.-supervised training course, and then returned to their local areas, according to congressional sources.
The Civil Order Police are responsible for disturbances in urban areas, these source said
“It’s a very good and workable idea,” said one congressional source.
But when asked if the eight-week course was far too brief and that, to be effective, such training required a least a year requiring follow-on mentoring to produce professional-grade officers, he acknowledged that course fell short of these standards, adding, “We are under the pressure of time here.”
The retrained police are to be ready by the tme of Fall elections. Thier was skeptical of this. The effort to build the capacity of the Afghan police “is piecemeal at best,” he said.
Perhaps the most closely watched new security newcomer is the Afghan Public Protection Force, which has gained President Obama’s personal pledge of support. It’s an experimental militia program modeled after a similar program in Iraq, according to Afghan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, Greg Bruno. It involves creating local militias, recruited and vetted by regional leaders with duties similar to those of a neighborhood watch, Bruno said.
Congressional sources confirmed that regional leaders are to be responsible for the APPF’s performance, but the program has its critics who object that arming tribes could prove unpredictable. One of the Bush administration’s greatest mistakes was to authorize the CIA to recruit, arm and pay thousands of militia mercenaries, called the Afghan Militia Force or AMF that destabilized the country by fighting each other for control of weapons, drugs, and tolls. The AMF then sold the weapons given them by America to the Taliban, according to journalist Ahmed Rashid and confirmed the congressional sources.
“Bringing back the warlords was about as dumb as they come,” said a congressional official. “What’s more disgraceful, we didn’t even try to intervene and stop it.”
By Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent