U.S. Leads Efforts to Transform Afghan Police Force

Two Kabul policemen patrol near the site of a suicide bombing that targeted fellow officers. i i

Two Kabul policemen patrol near the site of a suicide bombing that targeted police officers. More attacks were expected on this road near the airport, but none of the policemen there had guns. One officer uses a switch snapped from a nearby tree to discourage curious onlookers from congregating around the bomb site. Jim Wildman, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Wildman, NPR
Two Kabul policemen patrol near the site of a suicide bombing that targeted fellow officers.

Two Kabul policemen patrol near the site of a suicide bombing that targeted police officers. More attacks were expected on this road near the airport, but none of the policemen there had guns. One officer uses a switch snapped from a nearby tree to discourage curious onlookers from congregating around the bomb site.

Jim Wildman, NPR
Panjwai District Assistant Police Chief Brahim i i

Panjwai District Assistant Police Chief Brahim sits in the district's police station. His commander had been called away to another police station. Their former commander was recently fired for incompetence. Jim Wildman, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Wildman, NPR
Panjwai District Assistant Police Chief Brahim

Panjwai District Assistant Police Chief Brahim sits in the district's police station. His commander had been called away to another police station. Their former commander was recently fired for incompetence.

Jim Wildman, NPR
The Panjwai District Bazaar shows signs of life. i i

The Panjwai District Bazaar is showing signs of life after recent fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban forces many locals to flee the area. Policemen rarely patrol the bazaar, leaving that job to the Afghan National Army. Local checkpoints outside the village are also manned by the army and coalition forces. Jim Wildman, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Wildman, NPR
The Panjwai District Bazaar shows signs of life.

The Panjwai District Bazaar is showing signs of life after recent fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban forces many locals to flee the area. Policemen rarely patrol the bazaar, leaving that job to the Afghan National Army. Local checkpoints outside the village are also manned by the army and coalition forces.

Jim Wildman, NPR
A NATO convoy moves through the village of Panjwai. i i

These NATO convoys are a familiar sight in the village of Panjwai. The district's assistant police chief says he doesn't have enough policemen to keep the peace without international forces and the Afghan National Army. Jim Wildman, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Wildman, NPR
A NATO convoy moves through the village of Panjwai.

These NATO convoys are a familiar sight in the village of Panjwai. The district's assistant police chief says he doesn't have enough policemen to keep the peace without international forces and the Afghan National Army.

Jim Wildman, NPR

Five years since coalition troops invaded Afghanistan, NPR profiles three of the country's most important national institutions — the police, the courts, and the national army. A three-part series examines whether they can be useful building blocks for the future of Afghanistan.

Policemen have one of the most dangerous jobs in Afghanistan. They are underpaid, and most Afghans consider them corrupt.

On a Kabul street where a suicide bomber had targeted local policemen one morning, an officer explains why he continues to come to work.

"I love my people. I love my job," he says, adding that he had wanted to be a police officer since childhood.

None of the uniformed officers have guns.

In the village of Panjwai outside Kandahar, the district's assistant police chief says he doesn't have enough officers to keep the peace. NATO and Afghan National Army soldiers had just finished a major battle with the Taliban to win back the town. Taliban fighters were rumored to still have sympathizers in the area.

"Without the Afghan National Army and the coalition forces, we cannot protect this district," says the police official, who only identifies himself as Brahim.

His predecessor had recently been relieved of his duties because of incompetence.

The U.S. military is leading efforts to transform Afghanistan's police force. Maj. Gen. Bob Durbin, commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, says the Afghan police force is about two years away from making significant inroads.

"Reforming an existing institution is harder than building a new one," he says. "It's a culture of survival: survival of self, followed by family, followed by tribe. And then it ends there, here in Afghanistan. A survival of nation is foreign to them. Service to nation is foreign to them."

Durbin says Afghanistan's army has become the model of what the police force can be.

"Senior officials in the Afghan National Police have seen the army that now is respected by the people, that serves and protects its people," Durbin says. "And now you have senior officials in the Afghan National Police who want to step forward to create a professional institution."

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