General David Petraeus has been on Capitol Hill the past two days laying out to Congress the state of the war in Afghanistan, sticking to many of the same talking points we've heard before: any progress NATO is making is reversible, the Taliban is feeling pressured, etc., etc....
When all is said and done however, the way out of Afghanistan for American and NATO troops is to train and equip an Afghan army, police force, and other security forces to handle their own internal struggles. In a counterinsurgency/civil war like we're seeing in Afghanistan today, history has shown that a competent, professional, and non-corrupt police force is a critical tool that allows a government to reach out to the local populace while providing localized intelligence to back up the chain of command.
In fact, speaking late last year, Bob Perito, an expert on efforts to train police in stability operations at the United States Institute of Peace, said that training a competent police force may be the most critical effort in any counterinsurgency. “Police are the face of the government that is seen by everyone,” he said, since the police are many times the only link locals have to the government, and so can become both the source of legitimacy of the government as well as a source of intelligence about the insurgency. “The relationship between the people and the police is critically important.”
That is why the failures to train and organize the Afghan police force from 2002-2009 are such a tragedy.
In a story in the March issue of DTI, I look at what the NATO training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) has been doing since standing up in 2009 to try and churn out police as fast as possible. It’s a story of hard work, tight schedules, frustration, and some success, with the ambitious goal of growing the force from 95,000 cops in late 2009 to 134,000 by November of this year in the face of huge—but improving—attrition numbers, and the grim fact that in the field, three cops are killed for every one Afghan soldier.
Maj. Gen Stuart Beare, who serves as Deputy Commander–Police at NTM-A, told me that despite being 290 police trainers short of what he needs to be fully resourced to do the job, he still has 850 professional police trainers at seven training centers around the country, and that while last year he trained 35,000 officers, this year he will run 50,000 more through the system. He is also bringing in Afghan instructors, with about 800 training recruits today, and with plans to grow that to about 2,000 trainers by next year, which in the long run should give the Afghans some institutional capacity to recruit and train police themselves.
There’s lots more, you can read the whole story here.