U.S. Toils To Build Police Force In Kandahar The U.S. operation in Afghanistan's Kandahar province includes training the Afghan police, which is plagued by illiteracy, high dropout rates and drug use. A quality, independent police force is essential if Afghanistan is to protect its own people. But creating one could take years.
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U.S. Toils To Build Police Force In Kandahar

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U.S. Toils To Build Police Force In Kandahar

U.S. Toils To Build Police Force In Kandahar

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NPR's Tom Bowman went on patrol with American military police working with the Afghan police.


TOM BOWMAN: Sergeant Bradley Swope, the MP squad leader, instructs an Afghan police captain to get his men to clean up the station.

BRADLEY SWOPE: 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: 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.

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.

SAYYED GULAB SHAH: (Through translator) I think maybe seven or eight years more.

BOWMAN: 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.

OMAR LOMIS: 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

LOMIS: At a minimum, you would need about 3,000. At a very bare-bones minimum, I would think.

BOWMAN: Shah, the police commander, says the top reason is low pay.

GULAB 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.

GULAB SHAH: (Through translator) They think that today we're being arrested, tomorrow we will be released.

BOWMAN: 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.


BOWMAN: 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.

LOUISE KELLY: 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: 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.

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.

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.

SWOPE: Our job is just to provide the security for the Canadians.

BOWMAN: One of the Canadians is Lieutenant Alex Lomasney.

ALEX LOMASNEY: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BOWMAN: 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.

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: Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar City, Afghanistan.


LOUISE 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.


LOUISE KELLY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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