Canada rushes to modernize Afghan police force

The Canadian commander of NATO forces in Kandahar province on Tuesday visited the site of a new policing initiative intended to gain control in volatile areas of competing Western and Taliban influences.

Canada is funding construction of three police stations in the violent districts of Zhari and Panjwaii, to modernize the Afghan National Police.

“We’re trying to inculcate in them Western ideas of policing, so that they have a police station from which to patrol, rather than the checkpoints scattered all over the place,” said Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson after visiting the building site for one station near Pasab, a stone’s throw from the spot where Canadian Pte. Josh Klukie died after stepping on a massive booby-trap bomb in September, 2006.

About a dozen Afghan men worked with picks and shovels amid mounds of gravel and stacks of bricks and rebar while Brig.-Gen. Thompson examined plans for the police station — expected to be completed in six weeks — with an Afghan project supervisor.

The construction itself acts as a counter-insurgency measure, Canadian Capt. Piers Pappin said Tuesday, as he looked out over the site of Pte. Klukie’s death, which occurred under Capt. Pappin’s platoon command. Across the road, another 200 Afghan men and boys were working on a Canadian-funded irrigation-ditch project intended to build community support for government authorities, in conjunction with the improved police presence.

“Every Afghan you see here today is making a pretty good salary, and they don’t have a rifle in their hand,” Capt. Pappin said.

Development of an effective national police force is crucial to the success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, said Canadian Sgt. David Gratto, a military police officer who mentors Afghan police.

While the Afghan National Army has received a great deal of attention from the international military coalition and has progressed as a fighting force, the national police — widely mistrusted for stealing from the populace — remain primitive by Western standards.

“If the police can’t be trusted, how can they be effective with the local people?” Sgt. Gratto asked. “The people aren’t going to come out and talk to them like people would with a cop in Toronto.”

Taliban support in the area is “very high,” Sgt. Gratto said, adding that Canadian troops haven’t determined how much of the support is willing, and how much it’s coerced through Taliban intimidation.

But the more the public backs the national police, the less it will back the Taliban, Gratto said.

“It’s almost like a competition,” Sgt. Gratto said. “The insurgents want the support of the communities. Police need to show that they care about the community more, and that they’ll do the right thing.”

Canada has had a road built into another site where a police station is planned, and has yet to start work on the third station it is funding in the two districts. The U.S. has completed one station. Each is intended to house a garrison of 45 police officers.

Kandahar province remains drastically short of the number of police needed to maintain security in areas brought under NATO control, and to prevent them from being retaken by the Taliban, Brig.-Gen. Thompson said. Four thousand police are needed in the province, only 2,300 are on the payroll, and only 800 of those on the payroll are professionally trained, Brig.-Gen. Thompson said.

“What we desperately need is more police,” Brig.-Gen. Thompson said.

If areas can be secured and put under police control, NATO forces can expand outward, to disrupt insurgent activities and to prepare additional ground for control by government security forces, Brig.-Gen. Thompson said.