A European Union-led mission is making rapid progress in the training of Afghan police officers. But the fledgling police force will likely require international support beyond the end of the mission's current mandate.
Afghan police are to soon take over responsibility for security
EUPOL, the European Union-led police training mission in Afghanistan, is confident that the goal of building up a fully functional Afghan national police force by the end of next year can be achieved.
At a summit in Lisbon in November 2010, NATO leaders set 2014 as the year in which Afghan forces would assume primary responsibility for the country's security. This includes the setting up of a National police force of 170.000 officers by the end of 2012.
Speaking on the sidelines of a European police conference in Berlin on Wednesday, the head of EUPOL, Jukka Savolainen, told reporters that around 122.000 officers were now enrolled in the newly established Afghan police, putting the benchmarks set out in Lisbon within reach. He even went as far as to say that the force was already strong enough for international security forces in the country to consider withdrawing.
"The growth is immense, I mean the starting point was about 30.000 and they had no training whatsoever,” he said. “Now there will be 170.000 who I hope can act in an organized way, and they have a good enough salary so that they want to keep their jobs. That is why I think it is relevant to say that NATO forces can be significantly reduced."
NATO troops are expected to start handing over power in the country's quieter provinces within the next few months, raising the question as to whether Afghan forces are strong enough to take on the Taliban insurgency.
There are around 300 European police instructors in Afghanistan
But some warn that it would be counterproductive for Western troops to start withdrawing on a large scale. The argument is that many Afghan police officers would then fear for their lives, in the belief that the Taliban could soon return to power.
Even with the Western troops present in the country, the approximately 300 European instructors face a number of challenges specific to Afghanistan. Among them is a high rate of illiteracy among the recruits.
“We need to train them in literacy because if we want to have a police officer who is able to work at a checkpoint to check papers he needs to be able to read,” said Gerry Menzel, a senior German police instructor with EUPOL.
But the head of mission, Jukka Savolainen preferred to focus on the positive. He noted that the number of officers leaving the force or defecting to the Taliban has dropped substantially to just 20 percent in recent months.
At the same time though, he warned that such achievements could be undone in the absence of a long-term international commitment to police training in Afghanistan, one that extends beyond May 31, 2013, when EUPOL's mandate expires.
Author: Uwe Hessler / pfd
Editor: Andreas Illmer