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NATO disbands Afghan auxiliary police

Canadian Press
May 15, 2008
Murray Brewster
NATO has quietly disbanded the Afghan auxiliary police force, a ragtag bunch of part-time cops believed by some to have contributed more to the insurgency and tribal tensions than they took away.
"They have simply been replaced and we are working with the Afghan police," said Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, who has just completed a 10-month tour as commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
Born out of frustration in the aftermath of Operation Medusa, the 2006 Canadian-led offensive, the auxiliary police were meant to provide security in remote villages and districts, much like a neighbourhood watch.
They were supposed to serve as a backup to full-time Afghan National Police officers in major centres such as Kandahar.
NATO didn't have enough troops to hold the ground it had captured from Taliban militants. British Gen. Sir David Richard, the alliance commander in Afghanistan at the time, ordered the auxiliary units created to prevent territory from falling back into insurgent hands.
Some of the 11,000 auxiliary police - who receive $70 US per month in the six southern provinces of Uruzgan, Kandahar, Helmand, Farah, Zabul and Ghazni - will be absorbed into the slightly better trained and equipped national police force. The rest will be told to go home.
Laroche said Afghan National Police training in general has been stepped up with the introduction of a program called Focused District Development. But it is widely recognized that the police are about three years behind the Afghan army "as a minimum" when it comes to development.
"Everybody in Afghanistan understands that and I think we have to focus more on the police," Laroche said in a recent interview.
Afghan federal officials in Kandahar said that the auxiliary police units have been disbanded within the city but a few may still exist in rural areas. They will be phased out throughout the six southern provinces by October.
The auxiliary police, modeled on the traditional community defence initiative called arbakai, was initially heralded by Canadian commanders as way to instill confidence in isolated communities where villagers are suspicious of foreigners and the federal police.
Young men were given just a few weeks' basic weapons training, a uniform and sent to guard static positions such as road checkpoints.
The concept was the source of friction among allies.
The Americans, which took charge of police training, saw the British-backed plan as akin to arming local militias who could potentially turn their guns on the Kabul-based government.
Maj-Gen. Robert Cone, the U.S. general in charge of police training, was quoted earlier this spring as saying the auxiliary police detracted from the development of a professional, well-trained, well-led police force.
Corruption among some of the part-time cops further sealed their fate.
Canadian troops have often expressed frustration with the auxiliary police, particularly after some units abandoned their checkpoints in the face of Taliban attacks, notably in the volatile Panjwaii district.
Richards said he had no choice but to create the auxiliary units because there weren't enough NATO troops on the ground to consolidate the gains made during the Canadian offensive.
"The troops were exhausted and the Taliban, although they fled - some south but mostly to the west - started to trickle back in and I had very little left to deal with it with, hence we came up with the Afghan National Auxiliary Police because I got so fed up with not having anything," the general told the British House of Commons defence committee recently.
The program had the full support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but interior ministry officials say the auxiliary police were meant to be a stopgap for three or four years until more full-time police could be trained.
Copyright 2008, Canoe Inc.
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