CBS, November 29, 2010
Good Cop, Bad Cop: Afghanistan’s National Police
Police Is Critical Part in Fighting Insurgency, But Many Problems Remain
President Obama wants to begin withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan next summer, but his ability to do that will largely depend on how quickly Afghan security forces can be trained to take over the fight.
Training of the Afghan police. Most of the police is illiterate.
While the Afghan army has made some strides in recent years, the national police force has developed a reputation for drug abuse, illiteracy and desertion.
Earlier this month The New York Times reported that up to 19 Afghan police officers from southwest of Kabul defected to the Taliban en masse, taking their guns with them and burning down their own station house.
On paper, the Afghan National Police (ANP) are supposed to be about 120,000 strong, but no one knows for sure the actual number of policemen on duty, nor how many of them are good cops and how many are bad.
What is certain is that the U.S. has spent nine years and more than $7 billion building and training the Afghan police force. "60 Minutes" wanted to find out what has become of that investment.
We began with the three-star American general now in charge of their training. "The police have to succeed," Lt. General William Caldwell told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"If the Afghan police fail, we fail?" Cooper asked.
"We do," Caldwell replied.
Caldwell began overseeing training of the Afghan security forces last November. He's the highest ranking officer ever assigned to the mission, a sign of how important it is and how badly it has been going.
"The sooner we can develop an effective police force, the sooner U.S. forces will be able to have less of an active combat role," Caldwell explained.
"If we had a better-trained Afghan police at this point, that would save American lives?" Cooper asked.
"There's no question that'd be true," Caldwell replied.
When Caldwell took over, he found more than half of the Afghan police had not received any formal training whatsoever; most of them couldn't even read or write.
We visited the National Police Academy in Kabul, and were shown well-drilled officer candidates marching in unison. But a video, shot by an American instructor in 2008 at a basic training course in Southern Afghanistan, tells a different story: in the video, dozens of recruits were unable to do jumping jacks in sync. Some were unable or unwilling to do the exercises at all.
It shows that while Afghans may be known as fierce fighters, teaching them to become professional police officers or even do basic exercises is a massive challenge.
Not only are most of the police illiterate, but it turns out many of them also have a drug problem.
"There's one study said ten to twenty percent use or smoke hash and other forms of drugs," Cooper told Caldwell.
"And that's probably an accurate statistic too based on what we've seen," he replied.
Another video, taken by a member of the 82nd Airborne, shows an Afghan policeman smoking marijuana before going on patrol - evidently not an uncommon ritual.
"You must have known you were taking on a huge challenge when you got this assignment. Were you surprised, though, at what you found with the police?" Cooper asked.
"That's a great question. I felt very comfortable comin' in, workin' with the army piece. I knew the police portion would be a challenge," Caldwell replied, with a slight grin on his face.
"You're being diplomatic," Cooper pointed out.
"Yeah, I've got a great team that's workin' with me that's really helped me work through these challenges of the police," Caldwell replied.
One of Caldwell's biggest challenges is he still doesn't have enough manpower for the mission. Nine nations have sent 500 police trainers, but hundreds more are still needed.
At one training camp we visited, some Italian police officers were teaching the recruits marksmanship and crowd control. As of now, most Afghan police recruits only get six weeks of training.
In past years, many Afghan police received no follow-up training in the field. The goal today is for American and international forces to regularly supervise them.
National Guard troops from the Boston area with the 101st Field Artillery Regiment and are spending their year-long tour mentoring Afghan police north of Kabul.
"Pretty much if he opened up on us right now, he might not hit anybody," a U.S. sergeant joked, referring to an Afghan policeman standing nearby holding a large machine gun.
To keep the Afghans on target and turn them into a professionalized force that can win the support of the country's rural population, the Americans spend up to four days in a row living and working with them, keeping a constant lookout for corruption.
"The army's there to protect the nation; the police are there to protect the people," Caldwell explained.
When asked how important the police are to the counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S., the general said, "Perhaps one of the most critical pieces."
"Most critical?" Cooper asked. "More than the Afghan National Army?"
"Even more so than the army," Caldwell said. "And the reason why is because the police are the face of the Afghan government."
"The police are exactly what General Caldwell says they are. They are the face of the government. If the government is corrupt, the police are inevitably corrupt. And that is how the population sees them," Peter Galbraith told Cooper.
In 2009, Galbraith was the United Nations' number two man in Afghanistan.
"Part of your portfolio when you were with the U.N. in Afghanistan was the police," Cooper remarked. "Have you had interactions with the police?"
"Well, I had one particular incident with the police, actually, just near the American embassy. As I passed a roundabout, my bodyguard had to pay off the police in order for us to proceed," Galbraith remembered.
"So, wait. You got hit up by the Afghan National Police in Kabul?" Cooper asked. "For a bribe?"
"Hit up by the Afghan National Police, a stone's throw from the American Embassy, for a bribe," Galbraith replied.
Asked what that tells him that the Afghan National Police would hit him up for money, considering his important status, Galbraith said, "If they would do that for someone in my position, just imagine what it was for ordinary Afghans."
Galbraith was fired by the U.N. after protesting the fraud associated with Afghanistan's presidential elections. He says the police are the most corrupt institution in the country.
"Who are the police? They are illiterate villagers, many of them users of drugs who come in, they have a six-week training course. Now, how can you teach somebody to read and write, to be a policeman, to defend themselves in six weeks? It just isn't possible. So what emerges is not a policeman, but someone who is marginally more effective at extorting money from his fellow citizens," Galbraith said.
Asked if he believes the police are making the insurgency worse, Galbraith said, "Without a doubt."
They certainly made it worse in a place called Marjah. When U.S. Marines went on the offensive there last spring, they weren't just trying to root out the Taliban - they were also there to help replace corrupt Afghan police who had been harassing and extorting local residents.
"When somebody says there's corruption in the police force, my answer is, 'Okay, first of all, we haven't formally trained 'em, and then we didn't pay 'em right,'" Caldwell said. "In other words, the amount of money they were gettin' paid each month was insufficient for them to provide for themselves to live with a family in Afghanistan. So we in fact had set the conditions that made that policeman have to look for other ways to make money."
"I remember being in Kabul in 2002, going out with special forces and everyone then said, 'Look, this is a key element. This is crucial to helping Afghanistan stand up for itself.' Did people just forget about the police?" Cooper asked.
"There just hasn't been the focus on the police," Caldwell replied.
Before Caldwell arrived, much of the actual police training was overseen by civilian contractors working for the U.S. State Department. But according to a government audit, there was no "measurement of contractor performance," nor was any "specifictype of training . . . required."
Nevertheless, of the $7 billion the U.S. has spent training the police, over one billion went to pay the contractors.
"Has the money that's been spent training the Afghan police over the last eight years, has that been wasted?" Cooper asked.
"What I would tell you, it has not gotten us to where we need to be today," Caldwell said.
Since taking command, Caldwell has reorganized the entire training program. He has replaced nearly 400 private contractors, who he says lacked initiative and flexibility, and saved $150 million in the process.
There is now a plan to teach tens of thousands of Afghan police how to read at a basic level. Drug testing is mandatory, and to combat corruption, police wages have been doubled. To make sure Afghan officers actually get paid, American military teams monitor the police bureaucracy.
Police working in volatile areas are now paid $240 a month, about three times what most Afghans make, but not a lot of money for what may be the most dangerous job in country. Isolated at checkpoints and travelling in unarmored vehicles, the police are three times more likely to be killed in battle than Afghan army soldiers, and every month thousands just up and quit.
We found U.S. soldiers handing out leaflets, trying to recruit replacements. Caldwell wants to increase the police force by 15,000 over the next year, but to do that, 50,000 new recruits will have to be found and trained.
It'll then be up to American troops in the field to make sure they remain on the job and not on the take.
Former U.N. deputy envoy to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith believes even American forces' best efforts will have a limited effect.
"General Caldwell is now not just focused on training, but also on mentoring Afghan police in the field. Does that make a difference?" Cooper asked.
"For the time that there are U.S. troops with the police? Yes. Probably, when there are American troops there, the police are not openly extorting bribes at checkpoints. But the American troops are not there 24/7," Galbraith said.
"What kind of a task did General Caldwell have ahead of him in terms of trying to reform the police? Rebuild to create them?" Cooper asked.
"The police are incapable of being reformed," Galbraith replied. "It cannot be done."
"You mean it's just going to take a long time?" Cooper asked.
"Well, it cannot be done within a time horizon that you or I or the American people would find acceptable. We're talking about something that will take 100 years, generations," Galbraith predicted.
"Wait, you think it would take 100 years to really equip, train, create an Afghan national police force?" Cooper asked.
"Oh, you can equip them. You can provide some training. But you can't make them honest. You can't make them literate. You can't make them committed to the notions of policing that we have in the West," Galbraith said.
Caldwell told us building the police force will take several years, but says they are currently ahead of their recruiting goals and sees recent improved public opinion polls about police performance as proof they are marching in the right direction. Rating their progress will be a crucial part of a comprehensive White House review of the war in Afghanistan scheduled for next month.
"We have some enormous challenges still ahead of us. But I feel very optimistic about where we're going with the future now. And I feel like we've put it on the right path. We've got the resources. We've got the leadership of our country behind us. And we can make a change here," Caldwell predicted.
"But the clock is ticking," Cooper remarked.
"It is," Caldwell agreed.
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