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Law & Order: Afghan Unit

Hitting “reset”—again—with the Afghan Police.

1:00 PM, Aug 27, 2010 • By ANN MARLOWE
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The fleshy, pompous Sherzad left Zabul on April 22 as abruptly as he had arrived. (He’s said to be running for parliament from his native Farah province in the September 18 elections.) In his brief stint, Sherzad allied himself with Mohammed Wazir, the corrupt district governor. Zabul Governor Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, himself fighting an indictment for corruption, promised Tumlin’s boss, LTC David Oclander, that Wazir was through at an April meeting I attended, but President Karzai had since issued an order to reinstate him as a district governor elsewhere in Zabul. This is what Captain Tumlin is up against in his effort to help Urbal.

Urbal and Captain Mike Tumlin.Urbal and Captain Mike Tumlin.

Governance isn’t the only obstacle in the struggle to improve the Afghan National Police, or ANP, so that American forces can leave Afghanistan. The ANP are nearly at their planned October 31 strength of 109,000—they are due to increase to a final tally of 134,000 by October 31, 2011—but only because massive recruitment efforts are stanching a tide of departures.

Last December, General Stanley McChrystal raised police pay to parity with Afghan National Army levels. This immediately and dramatically increased enlistment. Unfortunately, although the new base pay—which begins at 12,000 afghanis or $250 a month—is enough to get men to become cops, it’s not enough to get them to stay.

“Every month, 100 men are coming and 100 men are going,” the Zabul provincial police recruitment chief told me by way of explaining why he couldn’t show me paper records on an annual basis. The officers and NCOs have about a 30 percent annual attrition rate. In Zabul, the average enlisted recruit works only long enough to pick up his first paycheck, after two months, and then “uses the $500 to go to get a good job in Iran.”

This gets at another problem: Most of the Zabul cops are northern Afghans who speak Dari, very close to Iranian Persian. But many of them--almost certainly a majority--don’t speak the Pashtu that almost all Zabulis speak. The reason is that in conservative Pashtun provinces like Zabul, joining the police or the army puts a cop or soldier on the side of a national government that enjoys little support here, making his family fair game for insurgent attacks. 

Admittedly, Zabul is an extreme case. But it is the extreme cases that have to improve if Afghanistan is to cohere on its own. Historically, Zabul has had little governance, and its predominantly Ghilzai Pashtun tribesmen are traditional rivals of the Durranis who hold power in Kandahar and Kabul. (President Karzai is a Durrani).

As LTC Oclander says, “The Afghan government has not placed much emphasis here--it’s the Mississippi of Afghanistan. The province isn’t crucial to us, but it’s crucial to the Taliban.”

Oclander, the commander of Task Force Fury of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne, commands five companies that “partner” with Afghan police and army units. His paratroopers redeployed to Kandahar shortly after I left the province in late April, so a new team of “partners” from Task Force Fury will move into the almost-finished $16 million American-financed Provincial Police Headquarters in downtown Qalat. Tumlin hopes that when the new team of paratroopers is around the ANP 24-7, they’ll be able to enforce higher standards. Hash smoking, for instance, will have to go.

The new police headquarters facility in Qalat is luxurious by Afghan standards, with sinks, showers, and a huge, white-tiled kitchen with marble countertops.

The thickwalled construction is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Cynics wonder how it will look when Americans are no longer around to maintain it.

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