“First time I ever saw an Afghan Police Station I thought it was something straight out of the dark ages, complete with zero electricity, mud structure, and no sewage drainage. Immediately I knew this mission would be challenging and wondered what the heck I got myself into?”
This quote from a U.S. Army Captain is just one example of the unusually blunt assessments contained in the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance (JCISFA) guide for advising the Afghan National Police (ANP). The 2010 version of the JCISFA ANP Mentor Guide, which was obtained by Public Intelligence along with a guide for troops assisting the Afghan National Army (ANA), contains a number of revealing observations on the often poor condition of Afghan National Security Forces, in particular the ANP.
The JCISFA guide explains to would-be advisers that an ANP station will not “resemble anything close to what an American police station would look like” and are often constructed from mud and straw. Though the Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan (CSTC-A) is reportedly funding numerous station rebuilds and renovations throughout the country, the guide warns that advisers could encounter the following conditions:
- Electricity (1 to 2 kerosene lanterns for light) in rural areas up to 2 to 4 hours of power each day.
- Lack of heat and air conditioning.
- Generators that work poorly (if at all).
- Latrines that are almost all “Eastern style” and have plumbing problems.
- Limited water and an unworkable sewage system.
The introduction to the mentor guide states that “public perception of the ANP is poor” and that police officers “have been known to establish Vehicle Control Points (VCP’s) or Traffic Control Points (TCP’s) for the purpose of exacting tolls” or “stealing from the population.” They will often ask to see the vehicle’s registration papers and then require a bribe, referred to as a “baksheesh” which literally means gift, before they return the registration to the vehicle’s owner. Local or tribal leaders will even utilize the ANP at times to “oppress their rivals in inter-family squabbles” which leads to a low public opinion of the national police force. While the ANA is often well regarded by the population, the ANP has a negative reputation among the Afghan people which is used to the advantage of insurgents. According to the guide, ANP are killed at three times the rate of ANA soldiers.
Here are some other revealing observations found in the JCISFA guide:
- Police Stations are Often Not Staffed Properly: “In order for a district station to function properly, the ANP need to fill key staff and leadership roles. Unfortunately, in many stations, some of the positions are unfilled, while in other stations the chief is the only key position filled.”
- Centralized Leadership Can Cause Inaction: “Control in the ANP is very centralized. As a result, subordinate officers rarely have the latitude to make decisions without first consulting with the chief. In some ways, this centralized control makes the advisor’s job easier since once he convinces the chief of the need to do something, he has convinced the whole station. On the down side, however, subordinate leaders will rarely take the initiative to solve problems without direction, and if the chief is not present they will often defer a decision, even a critical one, until his return.”
- Many Police Chiefs are Appointed Due to Patronage: “Many ANP chiefs owe their position not to leadership ability or police experience, but to the patronage of a local leader. As a result, advisors must often guide them very closely to help them do the right things.”
- Police Chiefs Often Feel They Can Fleece the Population: “Many chiefs also feel that their position grants them the right to certain ‘benefits’ including skimming pay or demanding additional compensation from the community.”
- Afghan Police Lack Muzzle Awareness: “Muzzle awareness is a major problem with many ANP, especially those who have never had an advisor team before. Developing muzzle awareness takes patience and constant spot corrections. Over time, these efforts will have an impact. ANP will also have a tendency to carry loaded weapons with the safety disengaged. A Kalashnikov-type weapon with a selector switch in a position other than ‘safe’ is easy to spot. Advisors need to maintain vigilance regarding the condition and position of ANP weapons.”
- Afghan Police Lack Fire Discipline: “Accountability of weapons and ammunition remains problematic due to poor record keeping, theft, maintenance issues, and, in the case of ammunition, operational use. Since the ANP are not known for their fire discipline, keeping stations stocked with sufficient ammunition in areas with a lot of enemy activity will become a constant challenge for the advisor teams.”
- There is “Rarely” a Formal Work Schedule: “ANP normally work a ‘fire house’ schedule where they will live and work at the station for a number of days followed by some time off. Unfortunately, the work schedule of the ANP is rarely formalized. Therefore neither the chief nor the advisors can accurately predict how many ANP will be at the station from day to day. This lack of predictability is exacerbated when the ANP conduct a major operation. It is not unusual on the day after an operation for the ANP to have almost no one on duty due to poor schedule management. Typically, advisors can expect to find 50-70% of a station’s assigned strength on duty at any given time. While some of the absences are authorized (time off, sick, injured, leave) some of the absences may be “ghost” police who either do not exist or exist only to collect a pay check.”
- Police Can Often Have Ties to Illegal Militias or the Taliban: “That many ANP owe their jobs to the influence of these local leaders has led to the perception that many of them have ties to insurgents or the Taliban, work with illegal militias, or have questionable loyalty to the ANP over their tribal benefactors. Unfortunately, in many cases, these perceptions are reality. The lack of a comprehensive national criminal database also makes weeding out the bad very difficult. In a country where mid to upper level Taliban leaders can freely travel the streets because no one is able or willing to identify them makes infiltration of the ANP by criminals and insurgents a foregone conclusion.”
- New Recruits Often Skip Their Training: “A new ANP hire is expected to attend basic police training at either the Central Training Center (CTC) in Kabul or one of the seven Regional Training Centers (RTC) in Kandahar, Gardez, Herat, Kunduz, Jalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Bamian. New hires are expected to attend training within 1-3 months of hire, since they are paid full ANP from the date of hire, often there is no impetus for them to go. Poor record keeping further exacerbates the problem resulting in a large number of untrained ANP.”
- Police Stations Often Use Hand Drawn Maps: “Districts often lack maps or may have hand-drawn maps. Maps in Dari can be requested, but land navigation training must be provided in order for the map to be read accurately. Dividing an area of responsibility into sectors based on recognizable terrain features and given simple code names based on colors or numbers, along with specific check points based on easily recognizable points will assist in intelligence gathering, operational planning, and communications.”
- Police Corruption is Rampant: “Corruption can be found at all levels, and may be justified by reasoning that the ANP risk much and are underpaid. One favorite tactic is to ‘shake down’ travelers at [traffic control points]. Another is to steal various items while conducting the search of a home. Leaders must be encouraged to follow up on reported acts such as these and to resolve them. Unresolved issues such as these can and will lead to more violence against the ANP and more support for insurgents.”