U.S. military putting higher priority on training Afghan police

KOLK, Afghanistan — With the Taliban on the offensive and gaining ground, the U.S. military has taken major steps to boost the training of the Afghan police forces, particularly since American Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal arrived in June to command the U.S. and NATO forces.

The U.S. now is using larger units attached to full brigades to train the police. Second Lt. Hans Beutel's platoon of about 25 men is tasked with mentoring the 180-man national police force in Kandahar province's Zhari district. It's part of a brigade of more than 3,000 82nd Airborne Division soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., that doubled the number of troops who were mentoring Afghan security forces when it arrived in late August.

Using full brigades as trainers provides more direct control over assets such as intelligence gathering and supplies than the previous system did, which had 12-man units reporting to a central command.

The military also is giving the training mission new prominence, naming Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV to lead a new NATO command.

American military leaders in Afghanistan agree that the Afghan army has improved after years of working with the U.S.-led coalition but that the police have lagged.

The police are particularly important to McChrystal's emphasis on protecting the Afghan population. Unlike Afghan soldiers, the police are usually from the areas in which they work. They understand the tribal structures, the people and the geography, making it easier to figure out who's likely to be sympathetic, who the insurgents are and what they're doing.

Col. Brian Drinkwine, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, which is the first brigade to undertake a training mission, said that much of the earlier training had focused on the Afghan army.

Now his soldiers, who are spread over 34 locations across the south and west of Afghanistan, are spending perhaps 60 percent of their time working with the police.

Drinkwine cautioned against expecting rapid improvement or measuring success by increases in the size of the police force and military. The stronger emphasis on training is "an investment strategy," he said.

"It's not going to be a Jiffy Bake, and if you did see it that quick, it probably wouldn't be legitimate," he said.

The number of police officers trained is important, he said, but the real yardsticks, if the Afghans are going to stand on their own, are about improving each police district's abilities. That includes matters as simple as police units that come back from a patrol and conduct proper debriefings on their own, commanders who request supplies before they run out or police who are competent enough to train other Afghans themselves.

(Price reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.)


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