Home > War Journalism > Afghan National Police: A Matchstick Castle

Afghan National Police: A Matchstick Castle

By Joseph Kassabian

Kandahar, Afghanistan. Living in small outposts, scattered in remote mountains, villages, and cities the Afghan National Police (ANP) primary goal is securing Afghanistan through the rule of law. Recruiting primarily though the Pashtu ethnic group, the requirements are few, but hard to meet in this country. The ability to read and write, be at least eighteen years of age, and pass a background check, the recruit can have one of the best available jobs in this impoverished, war torn country.

The realities of the situation are something far different. The ANP is racked with corruption, illiteracy, and infiltration by the Taliban. Recruitment is a farce, no background check is ever done, and if you are willing to give the station commander a portion of your pay check you have a job. Police Academy does technically exist, but very few recruits ever attend it. A recruit can be hired at any police station around the country, be given a weapon and uniform, and will be told they will attend the academy in a few weeks then go on the job with no training whatsoever. But since that requires several levels of the ANP’s logistical system to work together and spend money it simply never happens. Which brings up another problem: the ANP logistical system does not work, at any level, in any city. The way the system is suppose to work is a ANP station commander sends supply request up to the Ministry of Defense (MOD) the MOD process the request and send it to the Afghan supply corps, they in turn send the supplies to the Provincial Headquarters (PHQ) and the PHQ distributes the supplies to the various stations in the providence.

What really happens is the station commander either: can’t write, therefore not be able to fill out the correct paper work, doesn’t know that the paper work exists, knows it exists but doesn’t know how to fill it out, or of course they depend on Americans for everything. American units forced to work with the ANP have learned that in order to get them to do anything resembling work, they have to give them supplies. They won’t go on patrol, in vehicle or on foot, unless they are given fuel. The government, in all its wisdom outfitted the entire ANP with Ford Ranger pickup trucks, but never figured out how to have the Afghans get their own fuel. So American units, in order to meet patrol requirements, are forced to give them hand outs, in turn the ANP never want to learn their own system, since begging works just fine.

The ideal is by 2014, President Obama’s set pullout date, the ANP is completely self sustaining, and able to secure their own country. Unfortunately, the ANP is shockingly terrible at their jobs. After being trained, equipped, and led by US forces for ten years they are as ineffectual as the day they were founded. They routinely get in fire fights with the Afghan National Army (ANA) over supplies and petty arguments, shoot at American units for various reasons, give their weapons and uniforms to the Taliban, or simply be a member of the Taliban themselves.

They are notoriously unreliable partners, American units, like my own, are forced to partner and work with them, hand in hand, every single patrol, we even have to live with them. They aren’t trusted to guard any part of the camp, for fear they will fall asleep or simply not show up for work. When they do go on patrol with us, they are known to refuse to go down certain roads, randomly vanish from the patrol to buy things from the bazaar, or just not show up for work. They constantly interfere with operations, not letting us search any car with a woman in it, when operating at night they will play on their cell phones, listen to music, or fiddle with flashlights, in doing so exposing our patrol’s position and endangering our lives. Yet due to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) guidelines and policies we are forced to work and live with them.

“When we leave, the ANP are all going to either join the Taliban, or be killed by the Taliban” Laughed a soldier who wishes to remain anonymous.

“They’re fucking retarded.” Sneered a senior leader. “I hope the Taliban kills them all.”

“They are lazy and so long as it’s safe and secure in their own checkpoint they don’t care about what happens outside. They don’t work to stop, interdict, or investigate any crimes. They will probably all disappear as soon as ISAF leaves the country.”

The obvious overall opinion of soldiers on the ground is the ANP are totally untrustworthy, useless, and a danger to those around them. We work through them, rather than with them, and make them stand on the sidelines while we patrol, sticking them in the middle of the formation where they can do no harm. The ANP are a match stick castle, with the Americans as the only thing holding them up and while the deadline of our withdrawal drawing closer, it’s not going to take long for it all to fall down.

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