One of yesterday’s panels discussed the role of domestic police in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan, the Philippines (during the Hukbalahap Rebellion from 1946-54) and Iraq. The three case studies showed that a focus on building bottom up capacity by training large numbers of new police officers while neglecting the reform of the ministries and oversight processes needed to manage them is not only ineffective but can be counter-productive. This summary will focus on Christine Fair’s presentation outlining the performance of the police in Operation Moshtarak in Helmand, Afghanistan.
The Afghan police training mission has suffered fundamentally from what Fair called a “problem of math”–that in order to achieve the kind of ratio of counter-insurgents to population that the US Army field manual on COIN (FM 3-24) suggests, Afghan and international forces would need to number at least 400,000. Consequently, the focus of US and NATO-led police training missions has always been to produce large numbers of Afghan police. Operation Moshtarak was a critical test of the usefulness of these police in COIN operations. Operation Moshtarak also tested President Obama’s Afghan strategy of “clear, hold, build, transfer,” and General McChrystal’s tactical directives meant to protect Afghan civilians.
The situation in Helmand had deteriorated in the first place because since seizing power after the fall of the Taliban, the police chief and governor of Helmand had been so corrupt and predatory that the local population in Nad Ali and Marjah had asked the Taliban to return. Demonstrating that the Afghan government could deliver better results in the aftermath of the fighting was consequently the only real measure of success for the operation.
The strategy was that following combat operations, the “clear” phase, the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP)–widely considered to be the best trained and most highly-regarded segment of the Afghan police–would be used as a “hold” force, until policing could eventually be handed to locally-trained Afghan Uniformed Police units. Unfortunately, said Fair, the use of ANCOP was a disaster, as they proved to be no less corrupt and predatory than the rest of the Afghan police. Residents of Marjah threatened that they would return to the Taliban if the ANCOP weren’t removed. At the same time, the eventual transfer to the Afghan Uniformed Police was delayed because the international community started training new recruits from Marjah too late for them to be ready in time.
The poor performance of the police in Operation Moshtarak–in particular the supposedly better trained and better performing ANCOP–raises serious questions about the ability to transfer authority by 2014, and reinforces the core problems in the Ministry of Interior.