Afghanistan's police officers are the frontline of the war against the Taliban. Yet, U.S. officials admit that the Afghan force remains woefully under-trained, under-equipped and understaffed. Many police officers are accused of taking bribes from poppy farmers and criminals. Some are accused of working with insurgents and smugglers. American military officials in charge of training Afghan police say they are working hard to turn the force around. In Kapisa province, near Kabul, the U.S. military is embedding soldiers to train and equip Afghan police.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson visited the province.

Lieutenant SEAN HARRIS (Army National Guard): Tell these guys (unintelligible)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The thing Army National Guard Lieutenant Sean Harris(ph) is talking about is a room-sized green container with the word police painted in Dari and English on the side. His soldiers and several Afghan policemen guide the metal structure to the side of the road here in Alasay(ph) village.

There will be soon be dozens of these police posts up and down the insurgent-rife Tagab Valley. Harris says it's the only way to make sure the Taliban and other Islamist fighters don't come back here after the U.S. and Afghan military leave.

Lt. HARRIS: The ANP duty responsibility is to secure the country from within. That's why, when you look at the police, most of them are from the valleys and one from the villages and all those kind of things. The police, one of the things that we're working on here in Kapisa is community policing, actually being on the ground, being in the markets, being in the bazaars, having that face of the government of Afghanistan and knowing the people.

NELSON: But that face had not been a popular one. Not here in Kapisa province where tribal elders a day earlier complained to American and Afghan officials that police burst into their homes night after night to search for weapons and insurgents, nor across Afghanistan where many citizens complain about policemen demanding bribes or failing to arrest murderers and thieves.

Afghan policemen, in turn, complain they don't have enough bullets, guns or vehicles to be the first line of defense against the Taliban as their government wants them to be, especially when the Taliban targets them daily in ambushes and with roadside bombs. Most policemen are also bitter about earning $70 a month when Afghan soldiers earn $30 more.

Major General Robert Durbin, who until last month headed Western training of police here, agrees the police have not gotten enough Western attention and aid.

Major General ROBERT DURBIN (U.S. Army): All of the Afghan National Police, all 70,000, are minimally equipped with weapon systems and ammunition and vehicles, but they are not adequately, properly equipped. For example, to properly equip the Afghan National Police with the right amount of mobility assets, you need about 12,000 vehicles. Presently we have about 4,500 to 5,000.

NELSON: A joint report by the Pentagon and State Department last summer estimated less than half of the 70,000 Afghan police officers are able to carry out their duties. Durbin says they are working to fix the problems. He estimates that in 18 months, the Afghan police force will be in as good shape as the Afghan Army is today. Harris, the U.S. colonel in Kapisa, estimates it will take at least twice that long.

But Kapisa police Chief Abdul Jamil says since Harris and his team came to Kapisa province to advise and train the police force, his 1,110 officers have reaped the benefits. Jamil says they have new boots and plenty of bullets. They also received 52 Ford Ranger trucks. He adds that Harris has helped speed up the hiring of 350 auxiliary police officers from local villages to man the new portable posts.

Chief ABDUL JAMIL (Afghan National Police, Kapisa, Afghanistan): (Through translator) The Americans' presence and cooperation helped us improve law and order. This, in turn, generates support for the coalition forces so that not only the police but residents back their presence here.

NELSON: Harris says a lot of work remains, like finding a shop in Kapisa to repair the new trucks, or getting the police officers bulletproof vests, or weeding out Taliban informants on the police force.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Alasay, Afghanistan.

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