Elite Afghan police manning new checkpoints in Kandahar are visible sign of ramped up security

By Mirwais Khan, AP
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Elite cadre of Afghan police set up in Kandahar

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — There’s a new cop in this Taliban stronghold where criminals, insurgents and powerbrokers wield more influence than the Afghan government.

Nearly 600 members of Afghanistan’s most elite police unit have arrived in Kandahar to help staff new checkpoints — one of the first visible signs of NATO’s slow-moving campaign with Afghan forces to ramp up security in the nation’s largest city in the south.

The Afghan National Civil Order Police, partnered with international forces, are manning 11 new checkpoints around the clock. By August, their numbers will more than double as the so-called ANCOPs form a security perimeter around the city.

At the same time, thousands of NATO and Afghan troops are streaming into Kandahar province to pressure insurgents operating in more rural areas. The strategy is to secure the population with the additional trained police and troops so that capable governance and development projects designed to build capacity can win the loyalty of the city’s half-million residents.

With the temporary, well-trained ANCOP in place, 500 members of Kandahar’s current police force are being deployed for six weeks of training designed to create a more professional, less corrupt police force.

“If we train the police on how they should behave and communicate with the local people, they can help them rather then make problems for them. I hope this training will solve the problem we have with the local people,” said Kandahar provincial police chief Sardar Mohammad Zazai.

Nationwide, complaints against the police include shaking down travelers for money at checkpoints, skimming fuel, pilfering supplies and demanding bribes, according to a report released last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Kandahar resident Imran Khan, who works for the local finance department, said the police are overworked because of ongoing violence.

“Hopefully, they are going to come back better after their training — that the corruption can be controlled,” he said.

Nisar Khan, a college student in the city, said the public believes the local police force is rife with corruption.

“The people of Kandahar are hopeful that after they get the training, they will know how to treat the people, how to search and it will reduce the amount of corruption,” he said.

The security campaign has been moving slower than expected because of the Taliban’s deep roots in the area, rising crime, corruption and a public that doubts the Afghan government officials can provide needed services or protect them if they turn against the insurgents.

The Taliban have shown they won’t be easily routed from their spiritual birthplace. Proving their resilience, the insurgents have been carrying out attacks on people allied with the government and coalition forces.

Gunmen assassinated the deputy mayor of Kandahar in April as he knelt for evening prayers in a mosque. In June, a car bomb killed the chief of Arghandab district of Kandahar province. Days before, a suicide bomber killed more than 50 people at a wedding party in the same district. In April, three bombings — one targeting a local police official — shook the city.

While such attacks prove the resilience of the Taliban, the poor-performing police force is an equally entrenched problem.

“There are two enemies we’re fighting in Kandahar — the Taliban and corruption and poor governance,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday in Kabul after visiting Kandahar earlier in the day. “As we neutralize the Taliban, we have to replace their control with good governance, honest government, police that are not corrupt, a legal system that works. The people in Kandahar that we met said the Taliban are 30 percent of the problem and poor governance is 70 percent of the problem.”

On a visit to the sprawling city a few weeks ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged corruption as spoke to several hundred leaders from the province in a steamy hall. He recounted a story of an Afghan National Police officer in Kandahar who used profanity and insulted a local religious cleric.

“If we have such people in the police ranks we will not be able to bring security,” Karzai said. “If a police officer does not respect a cleric in his house, how will it be possible for the police to respect people in the society? We don’t need such police.”

The newly trained ANCOP is not only tasked with providing better security in the city, but it’s hoped that their professionalism will help change the perception of the Afghan National Police in the eyes of a skeptical public.

“We want the population to see their ANCOP out serving them, providing stability so that people can go out to the bazaar, to school and Kandahar can have a bustling economy that it should have,” said Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald, assistant to NATO’s commanding general for police development in Afghanistan. “Right now, the police in Kandahar, unfortunately, have a reputation of being corrupt — certainly not all, but some. I expect to see this reversed as training takes effect and more police deploy over the summer.”

As police enter training, biometrics information is obtained and they are drug-tested, Macdonald said. During one training program intake late last month, 60 policemen who had been working in Kandahar tested positive for hashish and nine tested positive for harder drugs, she said.

“If they test positive for opiates, methphetamines or other hard drugs, they will be immediately let go,” she said. Evidence of marijuana use will be recorded, but offenders will be retested later to make sure they are not still using the drug, she said.

Residents this week got their first look at the newly trained ANCOP like Mohammad Toryalai, who was patting down the driver of a car and inspecting what turned out to be empty plastic jugs in the trunk.

“We are having our guards search every vehicle,” Toryalai said at the checkpoint he was working on the northwest side of the city.

At a different checkpoint, another ANCOP, Mohammad Jawaid, patted down a man still astride his motorbike and inspected a three-wheeled rickshaw, decorated with colorful Pakistani artwork.

“We are trying to do our part,” Jawaid said. “And I hope more policemen like us come out to help us bring peace in our country.”

(This version CORRECTS Macdonald’s title to assistant to NATO’s commanding general for police development, instead of deputy.)

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