MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Among the challenges that General Petraeus would inherit are Afghanistan's army and police forces. A new U.S. government audit shows that both are consistently underprepared. The report finds that only 12 percent of the Afghan police force have drawn top ratings. The trainees are uneducated, drug use is rampant, and lots of them simply quit after they've been trained.
NPR's Tom Bowman went on patrol with American military police working with the Afghan police.
(Soundbite of vehicle engines)
TOM BOWMAN: Three huge armored trucks, each jammed with American military police, roll through downtown Kandahar. The vehicles turn past high concrete blast walls and into a police station.
Sergeant Bradley Swope, the MP squad leader, instructs an Afghan police captain to get his men to clean up the station.
Sergeant BRADLEY SWOPE (Squad Leader, Military Police, U.S. Army): You know, if he can, have his ANPs go ahead and do a nice little police call, pickup all the cigarette butts and everything. I'll have my soldiers do the same thing later on tonight.
BOWMAN: The police station is just two small, whitewashed buildings. On one side: small shops and the endless racket of motorcycles and cars. On the other side: a small graveyard. Some of the graves, really just mounds of dirt and no markers, are actually inside the police compound, near where we met Sergeant Swope.
He's a one-time ironworker from Chicago, a tall, lean soldier who's been training the Afghan police for nearly a year. He has no illusions about the challenges.
Sgt. SWOPE: You know, it's nothing that's going to happen overnight. It's like, you know, taking a newborn child, and you got to teach it all these new lessons: how to talk, how to walk. So it's a slow process.
BOWMAN: Slow because nearly three-quarters of Afghans are illiterate. That's one of the reasons the police commander here, Sayyed Gulab Shah, thinks it'll take years before the Afghans can operate on their own.
Mr. SAYYED GULAB SHAH (Commander, Kandahar Police Department): (Through translator) I think maybe seven or eight years more.
BOWMAN: Seven or eight years.
Shah is a squat, gray man just past 50. He sits on a faded, brown couch in his office at the station. There's a vase of plastic flowers on a bookshelf, next to a large portrait of President Hamid Karzai. A toy tank sits on his desk.
Shah is a warrior. He fought the Taliban for years. Now, the Taliban has returned, with bombings and assassinations. But some of the problems in Kandahar are common crimes, the sort that happen when there's no police.
Major OMAR LOMIS (Operations Officer, Military Police, U.S. Army): This is a city itself, just like New York City or Dallas, Texas. You know, it's got crime. Not everything in here is Taliban.
BOWMAN: That's Major Omar Lomis, operations officer for the American MPs. They've helped boost the Afghan police to 1,000 officers, but Lomis says they need far more
Maj. LOMIS: At a minimum, you would need about 3,000. At a very bare-bones minimum, I would think.
BOWMAN: And to make that happen, the Pentagon this summer is sending hundreds more MPs like Major Lomis and Sergeant Swope to patrol with the new Afghan police recruits.
There are no end of challenges to creating more Afghan cops. There's corruption - police shaking down residents for money. Yet another problem: more than half the Kandahar police walked off the job in the past two years.
Shah, the police commander, says the top reason is low pay.
Mr. SHAH: (Through translator) They cannot support their family, so they want to find a better job. And some of them are - they are under the intimidation of the Taliban.
BOWMAN: Shah tells us there's something he finds far more troubling than the quality of his force. He says most criminals arrested by his police are often released by politicians or judges because of family connections or just plain corruption.
Mr. SHAH: (Through translator) They think that today we're being arrested, tomorrow we will be released.
BOWMAN: The Americans, however, say they make sure that some of those are not released, such as Taliban a bomb maker. Those cases go through a separate American judicial system.
In a counterinsurgency fight, like the one the U.S. is fighting here, police are the most important security force. They're the ones closest to the people, springing from the very neighborhoods they're sworn to protect. But it doesn't always work that way.
(Soundbite of horn honking)
BOWMAN: We leave the commander's office at the police station and head out on patrol. The Americans stop at a police checkpoint on the side of the road, picking up rolls of barbed wire and heaving them on top of the trucks.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
BOWMAN: The Afghan police try to inspect passing cars, but there seems a language barrier. Rather than being locals, many of these police come from hundreds of miles away. They speak Dari in a city where the language is Pashto.
One more problem: drug use. A police chief was recently fired for that. We spook to a man named Mir, the MPs' translator for the past year. He has witnessed hashish smoking among the Afghan police, or ANP.
MIR (Translator): The ANPs, yeah, they really smoke hashish. Not all of them, I can't say all of them, but some of them, yeah.
BOWMAN: On duty?
MIR: No, like on duty, that they're guarding or something. That they are sitting around.
BOWMAN: The America MPs take that all in stride.
Mr. LOMIS: Drug use is a cultural thing. It's going to be hard to completely get rid of it.
BOWMAN: Again, Major Lomis, the operations officer.
Mr. LOMIS: If we find that the ANP are using, then that's grounds to kick them out. I know at the training academies, they give urinalysis, and if you come up hot, you're not going through training.
BOWMAN: Later that afternoon, near the end of the patrol, Sergeant Swope assembles his MPs on the outer edge of Kandahar city.
Mr. SWOPE: Our job is just to provide the security for the Canadians.
BOWMAN: They're patrolling a neighborhood of mud-walled compounds, rising up a rocky hillside. Taking part are Afghan police and soldiers from the Canadian army.
One of the Canadians is Lieutenant Alex Lomasney.
Lieutenant ALEX LOMASNEY (Canadian Army): Tell him we haven't seen him a month. How's everything been?
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
BOWMAN: Lomasney sits cross-legged on a grassy patch with an Afghan truck driver, who complains about the lack of security. Each morning, the man scans the dirt walkway in front of his compound for fresh digging or a slight mound -anything that might signal a hidden bomb.
Sitting nearby are several Afghan police. One smokes a cigarette. Others chat or gazed off in the distance. A NATO trainer later complains that they should have been patrolling. Lomasney, though, is more upbeat.
Lt. LOMASNEY: One day soon, we'll just be able to hand it over, and the foreign forces can leave and it'll be fully Afghan.
BOWMAN: That's the plan, at least, but that day won't come anytime soon.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar City, Afghanistan.
(Soundbite of music)
KELLY: You can see U.S. forces training the Afghan police at npr.org, where you'll also find photos by NPR's David Gilkey.
(Soundbite of music)
KELLY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.