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susan sachs

U.S. Lieutenant-General William Caldwell is commander of the international training operation in Afghanistan.USAF

The international training operation in Afghanistan will devote extra resources this year to creating a police force that is more literate and aware of human rights, although critics say the NATO effort is still short-changing civilian policing in its massive effort to build an Afghan fighting force that can be handed control of the country.

U.S. Lieutenant-General William Caldwell IV, commander of the training operation, said in an interview that he recognizes the police, reviled by many Afghans as corrupt and ill-trained, need more direct mentoring and more prolonged law enforcement training.

But the presence of trained police and soldiers is only one component of making the transition to Afghan control work in the short term, Gen. Caldwell added. It requires effective governance, a functioning police system and security leadership, among other things.

Whether those requirements are being met will be answered only as the handover proceeds, Gen. Caldwell said, with the first three provinces and four cities set to officially transfer to Afghan security control this summer. The NATO training mission (NTM-A), along with the overall military foreign command, is already pouring in extra police, troops and supplies to those areas to fill requests from Afghan officials.

Police training has long been a sore point between the U.S.-led NATO mission and the European Union, human-rights groups and many in the small contingent of Canadian and other foreign police officers working in Afghanistan.

The EU, through its own police training mission, operated some of the few projects focused on developing such civilian policing skills as patrolling neighbourhoods, crime investigation and sensitivity to women. Canada's community policing project in Kandahar, now being disbanded as its civilian and military personnel are being withdrawn beginning next month, was another.

These projects are dwarfed by the overall NATO training mission, which costs $6-billion a year and has concentrated on putting as many Afghans in uniform as possible, either as soldiers or paramilitary police officers, so that foreign troops can withdraw by the end of 2014.

In an interview at Camp Eggers, the heavily fortified headquarters of NTM-A, Gen. Caldwell said he recently set up 159 two-man teams to work side-by-side with Afghan police in the field - much as foreign soldiers team up as advisers with Afghan National Army units.

The newly deployed teams, run out of NATO regional commands, will "be the ones to teach and coach and advise the police," he said. "And it's really starting to have an impact out there for us, as they get a better handle on what's really going on."

The transition plan, which aims to hand over lead responsibility for security to Afghans in less than four years, also hinges on convincing Afghans that their government is credible. The way people see their police - as predatory, according to some polls here - is a key element.

"There are still many areas where the popularity of the police is not much better than the popularity of the insurgents," said Rebecca Barber, a researcher with the British charity Oxfam, which has called on NATO to focus more on accountability in the Afghan security forces.

In the rush to build up the Afghan forces, the original eight-week course of basic training for the Afghan National Police was reduced to six weeks in the last 18 months since NTM-A was set up to consolidate and standardize training.

The essence of the training is to give recruits the equivalent of Grade 1 literacy skills and teach them to defend themselves and operate checkpoints. In many parts of the country, the police are still the first and sometimes only line of defence against insurgent attacks.

The use of professional police officers to train Afghans, once one of Canada's core projects, has given way in the larger NATO mission to a reliance on military officers and U.S. contractors with little police experience.

Even the newly assigned mentoring teams created by Gen. Caldwell are staffed by U.S. contractors, according to his aides.

The capacity of the Afghan police and army to take the lead in providing security is weak, and unlikely to develop in the timetable set by NATO for pulling out most forces, according to Tonita Murray, a former director-general of the Canadian Police College who has worked as an adviser to the Afghan Interior Ministry for six years.

One reason is that NATO has struggled to get enough international trainers. Another, she said, is that the personnel doing the training are often not experienced trainers themselves, and come mostly from the military, not the police.

Once trained as a paramilitary force, Ms. Murray said, Afghan police will have the same difficulties that soldiers everywhere would have in converting themselves into civilian upholders of the peace.

"You cannot change a warrior fighting culture into a community law-and-order helping culture just like that," she added. "Civilian police are the ones who maintain the rule of law. Military or counterinsurgency fighters do not do that and cannot do that. They don't have the organizational culture training."

A critical report on Afghan police training, published by the British House of Lords three months ago, made a similar point - that community policing is being neglected. "From our evidence, it is apparent that great stress is laid by the NATO-led coalition on the number of police, rather than quality (as is also true of army training)," the parliamentary report said.

Gen. Caldwell said NATO training of Afghan security forces has made enormous strides in the past year and half.

Going by the numbers, NTM-A is well on its way to reaching the goal of a 305,600-strong combined army and police force by the end of November.

It is turning out 6,000 newly minted soldiers and 4,000 police officers a month. It runs basic literacy classes, now attended by nearly 80,000 Afghans in uniform. It fields 6,200 trainers, including 2,000 private military contractors, who come from 32 different countries.

Gen. Caldwell said he is leveraging those trainers by setting up joint police-development boards that include the European Union's trainers. They have been asked to run leadership training sessions for mid-level working Afghan police. "Those are 100-per-cent civilian police professionals," he said, "with NTM-A doing the logistics [of]moving them around.

Higher literacy rates among the police - now at 25 per cent of the force compared to 14 per cent in late 2009 - will also make it more practical to teach Afghan police the fundamentals of law enforcement. "This will allow us to move people around to do rule of law programs [with the police] which we couldn't do before," Gen. Caldwell said.

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CANADA'S PLEDGE: 950 MILITARY AND POLICE OFFICERS

Canada has pledged up to 950 military and police officers to the training mission, including the 150 Canadians now working as press officers, as staff at the NATO military command and at NTM-A.

Another 200 will work as administrative support staff to the trainers, according to Glen Parent, an aide to Colonel Peter Dawe, who recently arrived in Kabul to command the Canadian training mission. Most of the other Canadian military trainers, he said, will teach Afghan trainers who are already responsible for much of the basic training in Kabul and work at the testing centre where Afghan battalions are put together before deployment.

The Canadian police training mission is less clear.

Superintendent Konrad Shourie, a Toronto-based RCMP officer who is ending a nine-month stint as a police adviser to Lieutenant-General William Caldwell this month, said the 14 or so police trainers now in Kandahar will be transferred to Kabul.

They will be part of a contingent of about 50 civilian police officers from around the world who will be in place in early June. Many of them, he said, will be assigned as advisers in the Afghan Interior Ministry.

Their job, said Supt. Shourie, "is to help shift and change the lexicon and the mindset within the ANP towards a civilian police identity … as they move through from insurgency fight on to civilian policing organization."

The civilian police officers, though, will represent just over 1 per cent of the entire NTM-A training contingent.

Over all, Canada will have its biggest footprint in Afghanistan in the training mission, once combat troops leave Kandahar this summer. The United States is footing most of the bill for the Afghan forces, but Canada would be the second-largest contributor of personnel to the NTM-A.

Gen. Caldwell's top deputies are also Canadian. Major-General Stuart Beare has headed police training for nearly a year. This week, acting Major-General Michael Day, who headed Canadian Special Forces Command, became the deputy commander of army training.

- Susan Sachs



Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Canadian Major-General Stuart Beare is deputy commander of police training for NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan. Major-General Michael Day is deputy commander of army training for NTM-A. Incorrect information was originally published.