The U.S. government's plan to rapidly grow the ranks of Afghan police officers has run into a shortage of instructors and training camps, prompting U.S. and NATO officials to cut basic training for Afghan recruits from eight weeks to six.
The schedule change--which crams the same hours of training into fewer weeks--underscores the pressures that the Pentagon faces as it tries to transform the police into an effective counterinsurgency force with a higher level of military skills. Afghan police have long been seen as the weak link in that nation's security forces, suffering a disproportionate number of deadly attacks by the insurgents.
U.S. military officials in Kabul confirmed that the change took effect Saturday. They said the Afghan recruits, most of whom cannot read, write or count, would work longer days to make up for the compressed schedule.
The Afghan police training, contracted to DynCorp International, is now half as long as the 12-week program that DynCorp used to train Iraqi police recruits. DynCorp spokesman Douglas Ebner said the company was told of the change in training regimen in the past week.
The reduction goes against the advice given by some military advisors and contractors to an independent oversight panel late last year. But the quicker turnaround is needed to keep pace with an ambitious schedule of growing the police force to help fight the Taliban, officials familiar with the program told the Investigative Fund.
The U.S. military and NATO commanders hope to double the number of Afghan police and troops by 2013 to pave the way for a withdrawal of U.S. forces. As of January, DynCorp has trained 96,800 Afghan police since 2004 and U.S. officials are pushing at a breakneck pace to have 134,000 total by next year. Military commanders, both U.S. and Afghan, have been deeply and openly critical about the skills and competence of the existing police force.
The decision to compress training was made in Afghanistan three months after contractors and a former military commander were questioned sharply on Capitol Hill about the disparities between U.S. efforts to train police in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At a hearing Dec. 18 before the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting established by Congress, trainers from DynCorp and the U.S. military indicated they would not recommend shortening police training in Afghanistan.
Several members of the commission, including co-chairman Christopher Shays, questioned DynCorp International trainer Don Ryder about the quality of Afghan recruits.
Ryder said the training is challenged by the nation's high illiteracy rate. An average of one in four recruits drops out of the program before finishing, he told the commission.
Ryder resisted the suggestion that the training program could be streamlined, saying that at eight weeks it already was shorter than DynCorp's program in Iraq.
"Right now the training we provide in the eight-week training program is, in my view, basic training that we should not and cannot walk away from if we are going to leave the Afghans with a law enforcement capability...We should not move away from that," Ryder testified.
Commission member Grant Green -- a former assistant secretary of Defense and a member of the National Security Council under President Reagan -- emphasized the new demands of adding counterinsurgency training for police. "It is even more important, I think," Green said, "that we do not reduce the length of that course."
Training of police has been one of the costliest bills in the nation-building effort in Afghanistan. As of January, DynCorp had billed the government more than $437 million for its instruction.
In a telephone interview over the weekend, U.S. Army Col. Randall Cheeseborough, deputy commander of the police-training mission in Afghanistan, said the schedule adjustment would get more police out on the streets.
"The good news is that they compressed the basic training course from 8 weeks to 6 weeks with no loss of content. This will significantly increase training throughput and maximize training capacity," Cheeseborough said.
Cheeseborough could not explain why training, if more efficient in six weeks, had been run for years as an eight-week program.
The debate over how best to train the Afghan police has been further complicated by a recent change in mission and oversight.
The State Department has overseen police training since 2004 when U.S.-based DynCorp, which works in hot spots around the world, won the Afghan contract. Last year, the Pentagon pushed to take over the contract to emphasize counterinsurgency skills over civilian law enforcement.
That effort stumbled in the bidding phase. The Army attempted to amend an ongoing program for technology and equipment--a multibillion contract held by five companies including Blackwater, Raytheon and Northrup Grumman--by just adding an order seeking a new paramilitary training program.
That contracting maneuver essentially prevented DynCorp from participating. The company filed a protest that is under review by the Government Accountability Office. In the meantime, DynCorp's contract for basic law enforcement training, which was supposed to expire in January, has been extended until August.