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How to Win in Afghanistan: Part 2 -- Adequately Train the Afghan Security Forces

In the first part of my series on how we can win in Afghanistan over the next ten years I laid out the framework for reforming the Afghan government so that it can honestly govern its people. But, without strong and effective Afghan security forces, the Karzai government will not stand a chance against a resurgent Taliban. Thus, in Part 2, I explore how we must reform how we develop, train, and equip the Afghan security forces -- especially the Afghan Police as we've also grossly mishandled our development of the Afghan Police.

Adequately Train The Afghan Security Forces

The Afghan National Police

The Ministry of Interior commands the Afghan National Police (ANP) and organizes the ANP's personnel into two broad classes -- officers and enlisted, using military equivalent ranks to structure its hierarchy. Most provinces have a district level force for each corresponding district. District police forces report to Provincial level forces, who in turn, report directly to the Ministry of Interior.

A police First Lieutenant, Captain, or Major typically leads a district level force and a police Major General normally leads a provincial level force. Most district forces are divided into patrolling police and staff personnel, with the bulk of the force dedicated to paramilitary police work (i.e. defending territory from Taliban influence and aggression). Each district level force usually has a single staff member for finance issues (police pay), logistics (weapons and supplies), and training -- though in more remote or understaffed districts, the District Chief handles these functions as well. District chiefs typically wield tremendous power and can only maintain their position if they either have a positive and mutually supporting relationship with the District Sub-Governor or are directly backed by a NATO advisor team that ensures they retain their position.

Support staff usually makes up the bulk of a provincial level force, with their main duties focused on ensuring both provincial and district level forces are supplied, paid, and deployed when needed. Most provincial level forces also have a security detachment of police that guard various police buildings and serve as personal security for senior members of the provincial police force and, in some instances, the provincial civilian leadership. As with a district force, the provincial force retains power through close and mutually beneficial ties to the provincial civilian government or by protection via NATO advisor teams.

The Afghan National Police organized in 2002 and NATO asked Germany to train its forces. By 2005, the Germans had officially trained 35,000 police members, though the force suffered drastic loses of personnel due to desertion and combat attrition. In truth, the German training program only turned out several hundred officers with any proficiency. In 2005, the U.S. State Department took over the training, hiring DynCorps to oversee the initiative. DynCorps created a two-week basic training program at regional centers throughout Afghanistan and began cycling various district and provincial police units through the course in rapid succession. Most units continued to suffer high attrition rates due to desertion and combat after the DynCorps training. Many former NATO mentors to the ANP consider the DynCorps program to be a complete failure -- having done little more than waste resources.

In 2007, the U.S. military took over police training and instituted the Focused District Development Program (FDD). Under FDD, the US Military entity charged with training the ANP and ANA, CSTC-A (Combined Security Training Command -- Afghanistan), identified provincial districts as key terrain throughout the country. Districts normally qualified as key terrain if they had a major city or road within its borders. NATO considers Afghan government influence and control over these districts essential to winning the war. Districts are divided into "cycles" with the most important districts in the country (i.e. Kabul City, Kandahar, etc.) placed into the earliest training cycles. A cycle lasts 40 weeks, during which the following happens:

U.S. mentors do an initial district-wide assessment of the district's socioeconomic, political, and physical infrastructure and the capabilities of its police force (personnel strength, capabilities, training, development, and ability to operate independent of U.S. assistance).

Using the results of this initial assessment, U.S. mentors assign an initial rating to the district's police force on a scale of 1-4. In theory, a unit rated level-1 could, on any given day, police the district independent of U.S. assistance. A unit rated level-4 is deemed incapable of conducting even the basic tenets of survival without day-to-day U.S. assistance. NATO mentors almost always rate district ANP forces a level-4, with the exception being provincial capital districts (who have often benefitted from previous additional training and often attract and retain the most qualified personnel in the ANP). Provincial capital district forces usually receive a level-3 rating at the onset of the FDD process. U.S. mentors then arrange for the district's force to attend a two-month training program at one of two training centers in Afghanistan.

With training scheduled, U.S. mentors and the Afghan provincial police staff coordinate the transfer of police duty from the district police to a detachment of the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). The ANCOP take over police duty for a district while that district's force attended the two-month training program. The ANCOP are comprised of only officers and NCO's and NATO considers them to be the elite police force of the country. U.S. mentors consider one ANCOP police member to be the equivalent of at least five regular ANP members in terms of capabilities.

With the ANCOP in place, the district's ANP go through two-months of basic training run jointly by the U.S. military and DynCorps. International law stipulates that the U.S. military can train a foreign police force in basic combat tactics, intelligence, logistics, etc., but cannot train that force in the basic tenets of police work. In truth, this initial two-month basic training does not result in a trained police force, but rather an adequately clothed and provisionally armed paramilitary force of limited utility. Most graduates leave the program able to handle the operation of their personal weapon, police vehicles, and with a limited understanding of basic combat infantry tactics. NATO expects the rest of the forces' development to take place back in district under the supervision of the NATO mentors.

The force returns to their district and jointly patrols with the ANCOP for about two weeks, with the ANCOP gradually handing responsibility back to the district's police. On many an occasion, a district's population express a desire to keep the ANCOP and are leery of handing authority back to the regular ANP (who prior to FDD gained a reputation of corruption and preying upon the local population).

The Afghan National Army

The Ministry of Defense (MOD) oversees the Afghan National Army (ANA), which they divide into seven corps. Each corps maintains two to three brigades based on operational tempo -- with the more active corps utilizing three brigades. NATO forces began training and mentoring the ANA in 2002. NATO's training program utilizes a performance based model at all levels of command.

At the beginning of a unit's training, the NATO members assess the unit for its operational readiness, using the same rating scheme as the ANP (i.e. levels 1-4, with 1 being the most proficient and 4 being the least). For example, NATO begins mentoring an ANA infantry company and assesses the unit at a level-4 (minimal personnel, supplies, operational tactics, planning, etc.). The unit attends basic training and afterwards demonstrates an operational proficiency of level-3 equivalent unit. The NATO members assigned to the company formally test the unit in simulated and real-life situations and determine that the unit now operates as a level-3 unit on its own. NATO promotes the unit to a level-3 unit. Overtime, the unit continues to grow in proficiency to the point where NATO rates it as a level-1 unit -- i.e. it no longer needs any NATO supervision.

The Benefit of the ANA Training Model

The benefit of this performance-based program is that NATO ties the unit's development to its organic growth -- and not an arbitrary time standard. As a result, ANA units tend to accurately reflect their readiness level as opposed to ANP units, which typically underperform despite high ratings. It's not that ANP mentors short change their mentees, but rather, they are pressured from higher commands to meet their time-based training standards, as opposed to progressing a mentored unit only when that unit has consistently demonstrated gained proficiency.

Afghan Government Graft within the Police

As I discuss in my book, during my 2008 deployment in Ghazni Province as an Embedded Combat Adviser to the Afghan Army, Police, and National Directorate for Security, I personally witnessed several instances where illiterate men, with little to no formal training or competency for organizational management gained tremendous positions of power by paying large bribes. For example, a gate guard (the equivalent of an E-4 in terms of responsibility, time in organization, and pay) for the Provincial Police HQ paid the then Provincial Police Chief of Ghazni, Gen. Khan Mohammed, approximately $30,000 to be promoted to the a District Police Chief. The gate guard's rapid promotion would be the equivalent of taking a newly minted U.S. Army specialist and making him an Infantry Company commander overnight.

Indeed, money often fueled massive corruption within the Afghan security forces. Prior to the American Army taking over the ANP's training and development, the payment cycle hypothetically worked as follows: The Ministry of the Interior received the monthly cash payment in cash from the Ministry of Finance. The MOI then sent each province their allotted share of the payment, again in cash. The provincial ANP HQ distributed the cash among the district chiefs, who in turn, handed it out to his assigned men. In truth, at any and every level of physical cash transfer graft ensued. On average, in any given month the individual ANP only received about 1/3 of his allotted pay -- if he received it at all. Most ANP claimed the government owed them at least 3 months of pay on average.

We recognized instantly that the direct pay system failed completely and only continued to line the pockets of extremely corrupt men. Thus, we devised a new system. We took the ANP and gave their men bank accounts -- a first for most. We then coaxed the MOI into transferring all the pay via electronic transfer, which significantly reduced the level and opportunity for graft and outright theft.

Though a vast improvement from before, the new system has two major flaws. First, only the major cities (Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, etc...) have banks from which the ANP can withdraw the pay - forcing many ANP to take time off and travel great distances to physically acquire their pay. Second, any ANP who signed up with the service prior to this year most likely has yet to open a bank account. Most ANP signed up prior to this year. ANP who signed up after this year automatically receive a bank account. To rectify this pay problem, the ANP without bank accounts were given one as they go through FDD (Focused District Development) training. During our deployment in Ghazni, three of our 19 districts completed FDD training. Thus, the remaining 16 districts still received the majority of their pay via physical delivery (i.e. the district police chief drives up to the provincial HQ, takes the pay from the finance officer, drives back to this district, and allegedly hands it out to his men). Until all 16 districts complete FDD training (hopefully by 2014?), the pay problems will continue. For the system to work completely as designed, every district would need electricity, an internet connection, and a branch of Kabul bank -- something that isn't likely to occur until combat ends.

Thus, over the next ten years, we should train all the Afghan security forces to performance and proficiency standards, rather than arbitrary time standards. And, as we declare districts "secure" or ready to be handed over to the Afghan security forces, we need to immediately follow with sound, focused economic and infrastructure development. We need measurable and simple goals such as: bring electricity to every Afghan home, expand access to primary and secondary education, supply Afghan school children with the writing implements necessary to attend school, etc. Finally, we need to ensure that the Afghan security forces receive their pay and continue to root out the graft that plagues and corrupts the system.

Even if we can adequately reform the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces, we must help the Afghans to effectively out-govern the Taliban -- my final recommendation in part 3.