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Focus Shifts In Trans-Atlantic Debate On Contributions To Afghanistan

  • Ulrich Speck

The Afghan National Police are widely seen as corrupt and incapable of maintaining security.

The Afghan National Police are widely seen as corrupt and incapable of maintaining security.

BRUSSELS -- For years, the United States has asked Europe to contribute more troops to Afghanistan, with little success.

But as the new U.S. administration looks for its European allies to complement its impending troop surge, there are signs of a shift in the trans-Atlantic debate over what a contribution to Afghan security may entail.

With Afghan strategy on the agenda of a NATO summit set to take place on April 3-4 in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, the focus appears to be moving from burden-sharing on the military side to burden-sharing on a less visible, but no less crucial issue -- the formation of a professional Afghan police force.

"It was clear," Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said after a recent meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, "that we should focus more on the police deployment. The Afghan military's level has improved in the past years, while the situation of the police is poor. We should deploy more people in this area."

Schwarzenberg, who was in Washington on behalf of the rotating EU Presidency his country currently holds, added that he and Gates did not even discuss the number of troops Europe is contributing to Afghanistan.

It seems that, after years of wrangling over troop contributions and the conditions some NATO members have placed on their assignments or areas of deployment, the NATO allies may be developing a new formula to share the burden in Afghanistan -- with the Europeans taking more responsibility on the civilian side of security, especially the formation of a professional police force.

Desperate For Police

"Washington may be coming to the summit in Strasbourg with an agenda; namely, you, the Europeans, have got to step up your efforts on the civil-security side in Afghanistan," says Brooks Tigner, a security and defense policy expert in Brussels.

"Washington, quite rightly, will argue that we are putting more troops in, and we're carrying the bulk of the pain and the cost in addressing the military threats."

The training of the Afghan National Police, which is key to the country's security and stability, has indeed been neglected for years.

"Everyone knows that Afghanistan will be lost if they don't address the civil side. Because the police -- the role of the police in establishing security and trust with the local population -- is critical. That's an obvious statement," Tigner says.

"But it is not being done in Afghanistan. That's the problem. It's not being done. They're widely perceived -- the police force -- as corrupt and ill-trained, easily drawn away by the Taliban or compromised."

Better police training is called for.
Efforts to train the Afghan police started in 2002, with Germany taking the official lead among the coalition members. In mid-2007, a reluctant EU took over the "key partner status" from Berlin and launched a policing mission, EUPOL, that was supposed to become the umbrella of the non-U.S. efforts.

EUPOL is widely regarded as a failure. A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank comes to the conclusion that the EU, "despite having nominal lead for police reform, has failed to match rhetoric with a comprehensive strategy and adequate resourcing and personnel." Several EU member states are continuing to pursue their separate training programs.

Kai Eide, the UN secretary-general's envoy for Afghanistan, recently said that he "had hoped the EU would have been more active at an earlier stage." He noted that "a year ago they said they would raise the number of police trainers from 200 to 400, but I believe they still have not reached 200." According to some estimates, about 5,000 instructors are needed to train the Afghan police properly.

EU 'Must Deliver'

"It is a pity", Eide added, "that the Americans have had to carry the main burden for this, too."

The United States has, in recent years, increased it's own police-training activities, which currently dwarf European efforts in terms of manpower and resources. It has an annual budget for police training of around $800 million and employs around 2,500 personnel for police reform, plus more than 500 private contractors.

But U.S. activities are only loosely coordinated with those of the Europeans. And they are criticized for being too focused on molding the police into a support unit for the military instead of a true law enforcement agency.

A serious effort to build up the Afghan police as the backbone of a future Afghan state would not only mean spending more money, the ICG report says. What is needed is a clear strategy, leadership, and coordination among the many players in that field -- the Afghan Interior Ministry, EUPOL, the UN mission, the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), and others.

In Brussels, there is already a clear awareness that Europe is likely to be asked to play a much bigger role in the police training. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign-policy chief, said on February 23 that "there are ways of cooperating on Afghans' stability apart from just by the military."

The police mission, he added, is the EU's "most important contribution to the security" of the country. And in an address to the European Parliament last week, he urged the Europeans to respond to the Obama administration's new initiatives with in Afghanistan.

"We have to deliver, and to deliver in a sensible manner," Solana said.

"It will be the need for more engagement, which doesn't necessarily mean military engagement -- but we have to engage in a more efficient manner, in a better coordinated manner, amongst ourselves and with others -- the United States, the international community at large, the United Nations."