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The Canadian Press, March 5, 2007

Afghanistan's police 'part of the problem'

Corruption and poverty are turning many officers into thieves rather than protectors

By John Cotter

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: One of the first lessons Afghan police recruits are taught is not to steal from the people they are supposed to protect.

The fact that there is a need to instil such a basic tenet in prospective law enforcement officers shows the challenge faced by Canadians who are working to reform a police system that has been ravaged by years of corruption and neglect.

"There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up," said Brigadier-General Gary O'Brien, former deputy commanding general of police for the Combined Security Transition Command -- Afghanistan.

"The police (in some areas) are corrupt. They are part of the problem. They don't provide security for the people. They are the robbers of the people."

Much of that corruption is by police who steal to feed their families, to survive.

Hundreds of the protesters, mainly mechanics, flooded to the streets in Lashkargah capital of southern province of Helmand to complain ill-treatment and torture by local policemen.The demonstrators complained police forcibly took money and tortured them on usual basis.
Pajhwok Afghan News, March 3, 2007

Why? Because in some cases their own senior officers steal part of their wages under an archaic payroll system, O'Brien said in an interview from southwestern Ontario.

To deal with the problem, the Afghan government has established a plan where police payrolls are deposited in banks instead of doled out at local police stations.

Officers in some areas now draw their pay at a bank by showing their personal identification cards.

Police reform in Afghanistan is as daunting as the country's rugged landscape.

In the 1990s when Canada and other countries helped reform the 5,000-member police force of Kosovo, the autonomous province of Serbia, about 3,000 people were assigned to the project, O'Brien said.

In Afghanistan there are 62,000 police, but barely 500 people are assigned to forging them into a credible force.

The challenges include dealing with recruits and noncommissioned officers who can't read, the lack of a basic management system, poor equipment, low pay and little or no formal training. And all of this within a struggling criminal justice system in a country battered by decades of war.

To make headway, O'Brien said, the focus has been on the very basics.

"We are not training a police officer for the streets of Woodstock, Ont., we are training a policeman for the wilds of Uruzgan. The training has to be right.

"The basics need to be the understanding of the rule of law -- that a policeman is there to protect the people. Then it gets down to the simple basics of how to run a checkpoint, how do you stop a suspicious individual."

There are signs the push to fight corruption and reform the police system is taking hold.

The Afghanistan Interior Ministry has announced police officers are due for salary increases.

Senior police commanders are also to be chosen and promoted based on performance reviews and skill tests.

"We are now getting good leaders, they are now putting the processes in place to support the police and give them the training they need," O'Brien said. "But this is just beginning."

Defence officials in the United States and Britain estimate that up to half of all aid in Afghanistan is failing to reach the right people.

Nato forces in the south of the country say some Afghan police are guilty of corruption and will steal aid if it is handed out. ... A Pentagon official said thousands of cars and trucks intended for use by the Afghan police had been sold instead.
Sunday Telegraph, January 29, 2007

Canadians are involved in police reform in Afghanistan at various levels.

O'Brien, whose tour with the Security Transition Command in Kabul ended late last year, has been replaced by another Canadian, Brigadier-General Greg Young.

A team of RCMP and municipal police officers working out of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar city has been advising Afghan police commanders.

RCMP Staff Sergeant Alan McCambridge said that while Afghan police are keen to learn, the vast majority have never been in a classroom before and can't read or write.

He said there is a plan in the works to identify top Afghan police noncommissioned officers with good ethics and leadership skills for literacy training.

"Progress is slow because the literacy rate is so low, but when you see the pride they exhibit when they learn a new skill, that's the reward," McCambridge said Saturday.

"It is going to take years to really change the way the Afghan people look at the police as a respected profession."

A training school for recruits of the new Afghan National Auxiliary Police force is run near Kandahar airfield by Canadian military police.

Despite the hurdles, O'Brien said, the Afghan police can be reformed, but he warns that change won't come quickly.

"It is going to take time and it is going to take resources and it is going to take resolve from the international community," O'Brien said.

"I would hope that the people of Canada come to understand the challenges and not just the issues."

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