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Afghan Police Must Fight Crime, Not Taliban, ICG Says

Afghan police officers in training in Faizabad in September
KABUL (Reuters) -- Systemic corruption among the Afghan police force, too used to fighting the Taliban instead of fighting crime, is fueling a perception of lawlessness and public discontent, a think tank has said.

In many isolated outposts, the police are the only face of the Afghan government and are vulnerable to insurgent attacks. But they are also renowned for milking the populace for bribes.

Endemic corruption in the Interior Ministry, which runs the police, means promotions are often bought, not earned on merit.

"Too much emphasis has continued to be placed on using the police to fight the insurgency rather than crime. Corruption and political appointments are derailing attempts to professionalize the force," the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.

"While hard to measure given the lack of crime statistics, there is a general perception in Afghanistan that lawlessness is on the rise," it said.

Hundreds of Afghans have been kidnapped for ransoms in recent years, with few perpetrators ever caught or brought to justice. Many criminals are able to bribe their way out of prison without ever making it to trial.

Before Afghan and U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, Afghanistan had little concept of a police force. Germany took over the task of re-creating the police almost from scratch.

But from 2002 until 2007, as police "lead donor," Germany spent only $80 million on reforming the force. Until 2006, less than $200 million in total was spent on the police.

A German general last month called his country's efforts to train the Afghan police "a miserable failure."

Since taking over as the primary trainer of the Afghan Police Force (ANP), the United States has committed $3.8 billion in 2007 and 2008.

Police Vulnerable

While more attention has been placed on the ANP, the U.S. military largely treats the police as an additional force with which to engage Taliban insurgents, rather than tackle crime, said the ICG.

"The U.S. military, the dominant actor, still mainly sees the police as an auxiliary security force rather than an enforcer of the law. The Afghan National Police is ill equipped for this role," the ICG said in its report.

"Such an approach also ignores that organized crime and the lack of rule of law lie at the heart of much popular disillusionment and instability," it said.

Police are lightly armed compared to their army counterparts and often remain static in an area, making them more vulnerable to attack. ANP deaths are three times higher than those in the army, according to the U.S. military. In 2007, around 1,200 police were killed, with figures set to be similar for 2008.