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Afghan Police Culture Evolves Through ‘Focused District Development’

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2008 – A district-by-district training regimen in Afghanistan is teaching law enforcement principles to national police members, many of whom are learning such lessons the first time.

Since it began in October, the Focused District Development program has focused on reforming about two dozen districts in Afghanistan, where traditional police practices have been akin to “warlordism,” Army Col. Michael J. McMahon, the FDD director, said in a conference call today.

“The first time they heard that they weren’t supposed to beat people, and they weren’t supposed to take their money, (but) that they were supposed to enforce laws and that their job was to protect the people, most police were surprised,” McMahon said.

“We see FDD as really the first step in breaking the cycle of corruption that really is a challenge here in Afghanistan,” said McMahon, the director of force integration and training for Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, which oversees Afghan security forces development.

The program goal is to bolster 52 of 365 police districts in Afghanistan this year and to reform the entire Afghan National Police force by 2012, McMahon said.

The multistage process begins when Afghan Interior Ministry officials and U.S.-led police mentors appraise a district police unit, noting deficiencies in force numbers, quality and leadership, and equipment shortages. Based on their evaluation, this interagency district assessment and reform team builds plans for recruiting and training, and implements a process to select and vet a new corps of police members. Those chosen spend eight weeks at one of Afghanistan’s five training centers.

“But it’s not just about training,” McMahon said. “It’s about reforming the culture of the police there -- as much as you can do in eight weeks -- to get them a professional ethic. They get new equipment, new uniforms and get some discipline into them.”

As local forces spend two months undergoing off-site training, an elite cadre known as the Afghan National Civil Order Police serves within the district as a temporary replacement.

“The reason we put them in there is not only to provide the security while the police are gone, but also to set the expectations among the local people of what police are supposed to do,” McMahon said. “They do things right, and the people see that, ‘Hey, police really are supposed to protect us.’

“So when the district police come back in,” he added, “the people and the government now hold them accountable.”

When newly trained local forces return to their districts, they are accompanied by a police mentor team, which remains indefinitely to provide guidance until district law enforcement is capable of performing independently.

“Probably the most important thing is getting the right relationship between the local population and their police,” McMahon said of the overall mission. “Everything we’re seeing so far with this FDD is suggesting that this is the way to do it.”

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Related Sites:
Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan
Combined Joint Task Force 101

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