Panel Faults U.S.-Trained Afghan Police

By JAMES GLANZ and DAVID ROHDE

New York Times

December 5, 2006

Five years after the fall of the Taliban, a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department has found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone.

In fact, most police units had less than 50 percent of their authorized equipment on hand as of June, says the report, which was issued two weeks ago but is only now circulating among members of relevant Congressional committees.

In its most significant finding, the report said that no effective field training program had been established in Afghanistan, at least in part because of a slow, ineffectual start and understaffing.

Police training experts who have studied or had first-hand experience with the American effort in Afghanistan said they agreed with the report’s findings, and some said they had warned for years that field training was the backbone of a strong program. But they said additional problems needed to be investigated, including the quality of private contractors and the cost and effectiveness of relying on them to train the police officers. In particular, the experts questioned why the report focused on United States government managers and only glancingly analyzed the performance of the principal contractor in Afghanistan, DynCorp International of Virginia.

Considering the state of the police force, an estimated $600 million per year will be needed indefinitely to sustain it, says the report, undertaken by the offices of the inspectors general at the Pentagon and the State Department. Howard J. Krongard is the inspector general at State, which led the work on the 97-page report, and Thomas F. Gimble holds the office at the Pentagon.

American advisers will also have to combat endemic corruption in the force, the report says.

Efforts to respond to some of the issues that the report identifies are already under way. Afghan and American officials recently announced that they had instituted an “auxiliary police” program at the end of the summer, which aims to hire 11,200 officers in parts of the country beset by Taliban attacks, primarily in the south.

But those officers receive only two of the standard eight weeks of training, and the police training experts say the program could worsen the situation. They say the new hastily created program could place ill-trained and poorly vetted officers in the field and allow militias and criminals to infiltrate the force.

An American official involved in the new effort said the program became necessary after southern governors besieged by Taliban attacks began hiring police officers on their own. American officials feared they were seeing the beginnings of de facto private militias.

“This was designed to avoid the creation of the militias,” said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly.

The training experts say the United States made some of the same mistakes in training police forces in Afghanistan that it made in Iraq, including offering far too little field training, tracking equipment poorly and relying on private contractors for the actual training. At the same time, those experts say, the failure to create viable police forces to keep order and enforce the law on a local level has played a pivotal role in undermining the American efforts to stabilize both countries.

In Afghanistan, the failure has contributed to the explosion in opium production, government corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban.

In Iraq, the challenge is even larger: Sectarian death squads have infiltrated the police force and helped push the country to what many are now calling a civil war.

“In both places we were extraordinarily late getting started,” said Robert M. Perito, a policing expert at the United States Institute of Peace and a former National Security Council, State Department and Justice Department official. “In both places you have a dysfunctional Interior Ministry in control, and in both places the United States has tried to stand up a ministry advisory group to bring order out of chaos.”

In an interview this fall, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said the violence in the country’s south was partly a result of the lack of a viable force. He called for “much more support” from the United States and for an expansion of the country’s force of roughly 70,000 officers.

“It is not that they are strong,” he said, referring to the Taliban. “It is that we are not strong enough to defend ourselves.”

Most of the $1.1 billion the United States has spent on the training program in Afghanistan has gone to DynCorp, a technical services company based in Falls Church, Va., with 14,000 employees in about 33 countries. DynCorp also won the largest part of the training work in Iraq; it received a total of $1.6 billion for its training and security work in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 fiscal years, according to Gregory Lagana, a company spokesman. The work accounted for roughly 30 percent of the company’s revenue during those years. In May, the company raised $375 million in an initial public offering of its stock.

Under orders from the Defense Department, the company has deployed 377 police advisers to Afghanistan, roughly half the number the United States has deployed in Iraq. Police training experts say far more police advisers are needed in Afghanistan, which is roughly the same size as Iraq. The report says that management of the DynCorp contract by United States government officials in Afghanistan has fallen into a state of disarray; conflicting military and civilian bureaucracies could not even find a copy of the contract to clarify for auditors exactly what it called for.

The report does not suggest that DynCorp held any responsibility for the program’s failures, but former Afghan officials and several American policing experts who have examined DynCorp’s training on the ground say that the company is partly to blame for long delays and that the use of private contractors for training should be reviewed. Afghan officials have complained about the high cost of the advisers and have said that some have too little experience.

Ali Jalali, an Afghan-American military historian who served as interior minister from 2002 to 2005, said the expertise level of some DynCorp advisers sent to his ministry was mixed. He said he rejected the first group he was offered because their résumés were unimpressive. When a second group arrived, some were retired officers not up to the demands of working in Afghanistan, he said. Others knew virtually nothing about the country.

“They were good on patrols in Oklahoma City, Houston or Miami,” said Mr. Jalali, now a professor at the National Defense University in Washington. “But not in a country where you faced rebuilding the police force.”

Mr. Lagana defended the company’s work and said State Department officials closely monitored their activities. He said the Interior Ministry advisers who drew complaints regarding their experience level were removed.

“We filled positions based on the requirements and salary levels authorized by the State Department,” Mr. Lagana said. “As we went along, everyone realized we needed people with experience at higher levels in law enforcement.”

Seth Jones, an Afghanistan expert at the RAND Corporation who has made eight trips to Afghanistan since 2003 to study army and police training, called for a review of the company’s performance. He said he had repeatedly heard complaints from both Western and Afghan officials in Afghanistan about the quality and experience of DynCorp’s advisers.

“I was surprised, based on what I have seen on the ground, that DynCorp was let off the hook so easily,” he said of the report. “I think a very frank assessment of DynCorp needs to be done.”

Mr. Krongard, the State Department inspector general, acknowledged the seriousness of the report’s criticisms. But he said in a statement in answer to questions about the report that in the face of obstacles like largely illiterate recruits, low pay and corruption, the program was “generally well conceived and well executed,” but that for the police force to be self-sustaining, “long-term U.S. and international assistance and funding will be required at least beyond 2010.”

The report concluded that the official figure of 70,000 trained police officers was inflated and that only where American advisers were present was the counting reliable to some degree.

As a best estimate, the report said that 30,395 Afghan officers — fewer than half the official total — were “trained and equipped to carry out their police functions.”

The report also says that the vetting process for recruits, intended to keep the Taliban and people with powerful sectarian or tribal loyalties out of police ranks, has not been effective. After recruits are trained, they are often assigned by local police commanders to menial tasks like guard duty.

The international effort lost critical time when it initially mounted a token effort to train officers in Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials and policing experts. For the first two and a half years after the fall of the Taliban, no systematic police training program existed outside of Afghanistan’s capital, according to American and Afghan officials. The United States focused on training a new multiethnic army and paid little attention to the need for policemen. Germany pledged to train a new force but sent only 40 police advisers to Kabul.

Then, in 2004, the State Department issued a contract to DynCorp to deploy 30 police advisers across Afghanistan and construct seven regional training centers.

The United States spent $164 million building and running the training centers; recruits received two to four weeks of training. The effort was poorly monitored and achieved mixed results, according to a June 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office.

In April 2005, the Defense Department took over police training in Afghanistan and drastically expanded the number of American police advisers; the number is 377 today. Still, police training experts said the Afghanistan effort remained far too small, with small teams of advisers each expected to field train thousands of Afghan policemen.

The small corps of advisers also makes it more difficult to track equipment, and the report said that just 3,000 of 5,000 vehicles issued to the police nationwide could be accounted for. Although the report does not explicitly connect its warnings on corruption to the loss of equipment, the two appear to be closely related.

The weakness of the police has contributed to Afghanistan becoming the world’s largest producer of opium, accounting for 92 percent of the world’s supply, experts said. A report issued by the United Nations Office of Drug Control and the World Bank on Tuesday found that corruption had stymied efforts to counter opium production and that a handful of politically connected traffickers increasingly dominated the drug trade.

“The drug industry in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly consolidated,” the report says. “At the top level, around 25-30 key traffickers, the majority of them in southern Afghanistan, control major transactions and transfers, working closely with sponsors in top government and political positions.”

The report on police training strongly recommends expanding the advising program to take care of some of those problems but points out that an expansion would cost the United States much more money “as well as increasing the risk to U.S. personnel.”

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.