The EU's Afghan Police Mission - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 2: The Operating Environment

The security and development context

14.  The subject of this report is the EU's police mission. However, it is not the EU's sole contribution to restoring Afghanistan; see Box 1 below. In this chapter we consider the challenging environment in which the mission operates.

15.  Our witnesses commented that the building of the police and justice sector formed part of the overall security and development efforts in Afghanistan. Problems in the latter necessarily affected the former. As Kees Klompenhouwer (EU Civilian Operation Commander) remarked: "the absence of a peace settlement is already a complicating factor in implementing our mandate"[13]. Fatima Ayub (Open Society Foundation) argued that there were competing and incoherent visions of development in Afghanistan. Donors were spending aid bilaterally on projects and through channels of their choice, rather than the Afghan government taking the lead. Furthermore, all this was "unfolding in a battlefield"[14].


EU Support for Afghanistan

Training and mentoring the Afghan National Police (ANP)

16.  Since 2001, there have been a number of international missions aimed at supporting policing in Afghanistan. They include EUPOL, NATO, the UN, the US, national bilateral missions and private contractors. Over time, the NATO Training Mission (NTM-A) and the EU Police Mission have developed, and a number of bilateral missions have been subsumed into these multilateral missions. Remaining bilateral missions are also strongly encouraged to coordinate their work with the multilateral missions, primarily the NTM-A and EUPOL, as well as with the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for the police. As a result, the lines between bilateral and multilateral contributions are not always easily distinguishable. For example, the UK leads on the Helmand Police Training Centre, but it also involves Denmark and the US, and the Centre will be transferred to NTM-A command in 2011.

17.  Bilateral police missions by EU Member States are run by Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark. The German Police Project Team (GPPT), with over 200 staff, makes a significant contribution, delivering police training at all levels. The GPPT works in close coordination with EUPOL and NTM-A in Kabul and northern Afghanistan, with training sites in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz and Feyazabad. It also delivers training for officers and senior NCOs at the Afghan National Police Academy in Kabul.


International Police Training Missions in Afghanistan, including the NATO Mission (NTM-A)

The Afghan National Police (ANP)

18.  There are four main elements to the 96,000-strong Afghan National Police. A degree of flexibility exists in their remits and the way in which they are deployed:

·  The Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) and the Afghan Border Police, who are undergoing training as paramilitary police, for counter-insurgency operations. EUPOL is not involved directly in training these forces as it is not its area of expertise.

·  The Afghan Uniformed Civilian Police and the Afghan Anti-Crime Police who undertake criminal investigations. EUPOL has taken the lead on training and mentoring these two elements.

·  In addition, a local auxiliary force with a guard role, constitutes a fifth element (see paragraphs 38-42 below).


19.  We asked our witnesses whether there had been a tradition of policing in Afghanistan. Fatima Ayub commented that between World War 2 and the Soviet invasion in 1979 there had been a civil order police in the gendarmerie tradition[15]. Karen Pierce (UK Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, FCO) told us that in the past the police had been used more as an instrument of the local warlord than as a manifestation of the authority of the state. For that reason, there was still "a fair bit of corruption in certain provinces" and the people did not trust the police[16]. Dr Kempin told us that the GPPO had repaired civilian structures that had been "almost completely wiped out under the mujahedin and the Taliban." Traditional ranks in the ANP had been slimmed down to create a homogenous leadership structure and leading posts had been filled according to professional criteria. Arrangements had been made to ensure that police were paid regularly and a police academy set up in Kabul for mid- and high-ranking officers[17].


20.  The Minister recognised that "we are working from a very low base in a variety of different institutions across Afghanistan", but he highlighted the "extraordinary commitment that people are making in order to produce the change, which is absolutely vital". The United Kingdom's objective was not based on military conquest but on making the country secure. Progress was being made and the UK was working to strengthen police vetting procedures. The new Afghan Minister of the Interior had made a positive start towards achieving six key objectives seeking to tackle the most pressing issues affecting police reform: training; leadership; fighting corruption; reforming structure; equipment and living conditions; and punishment and reward. Efforts were being made to tackle the issues, both at ministry level and through the EU's work[18].

21.  Chief Superintendent Nigel Thomas (former member of the EUPOL mission and interim Head of Mission from May to July 2010) told us that many people within the police wanted to serve the community. However, the police suffered from numerous and serious problems including a high attrition rate, illiteracy and corruption. They lacked the capability to conduct the most basic community policing tasks, including forensic science and investigation techniques using intelligence and information. Moreover, the police were resented by the public. The police did not interface with the public and generally did not conduct patrols. They were trained to maintain security, including manning checkpoints and installations and acting as a static guard force, rather than a police force accessible to the public who would investigate crimes and undertake basic and fundamental policing. There was a "complete lack of investigation of crimes"[19].

22.  Dr Kempin described the parlous state of the police when EUPOL was formed: country police stations in a desolate state with widespread shortages of modern firearms, munitions, vehicles, fuel and communication systems; police so poorly paid that they had been unable to feed their families, making many prone to corruption or entanglement in criminal activities, such as charging arbitrary "taxes" at checkpoints. Accusations of torture and other human rights violations had undermined the integrity of the force, as had arrangements allowing suspects to buy their way out of custody. Lack of central attention to police experience or training, leading to lawlessness and trade in police posts, and Interior Ministry officials involved in the drugs trade misusing their power contributed further to the problems[20]. Kees Klompenhouwer told us "the situation of the Afghan police is dire"[21].

23.  We found that a further problem was the lack of an experienced middle-ranking level of leadership in the Afghan police. The Minister acknowledged that experience could not be invented. It was not possible suddenly to have "officers who are native to Afghanistan with 20 years' civilian background experience." Finding the leaders for the future was as important as ensuring that basic front-line officers had the skills they needed to do the job. Mentoring played an important role in finding potential leaders. Karen Pierce added that the training programmes allowed for the police equivalent of an army non-commissioned officer, as well as that of army officers. However, it was very difficult to get qualified personnel to fill these positions[22].


24.  Literacy is a prime requirement for civilian policing in order to take down evidence, keep proper records, read a map or a number plate or the serial number of a gun. Fatima Ayub underlined the challenges posed when trying to ensure police could interview witnesses and document what they found[23]. Nigel Thomas told us that the illiteracy rate in the police of around 70% was a major obstacle to developing a community policing system in Afghanistan. The military were taking all the best and literate officers into ANCOP and the border police, leaving all the illiterate officers for the uniform police and the Criminal Investigation Department. There was no effective education strategy for the ANP that he was aware of.[24] It was essential that the development of a civilian police force should be supported by other non-governmental organisation activity to improve literacy skills. Drug-taking was also a problem; but it fluctuated throughout the country, and an American survey had suggested that the level was not as high as anticipated[25].

25.  The lack of literacy in the Afghan police is a fundamental problem hindering its development. The EU, the Afghan government and international players should make a major investment in the literacy of police officers and new recruits. This will enable them better to pursue community policing, including criminal investigations, and is the most tractable of the issues surveyed here. So far there has been insufficient focus on literacy in the Afghan police and we call on the Government and the EU to increase funding and other support for this crucial area.

26.  We asked witnesses specifically about the attitude to and use of torture. Nigel Thomas told us that it had been part of the culture of Afghan society in the recent past, though he had been surprised at the engagement and interest of the Afghan police in human rights. He had seen reports of abuses from around the country but EUPOL was working with the Afghan police to ensure that any abuses were investigated and dealt with, which had been part of his role in advising the Minister of the Interior. EUPOL was developing human rights structures in the ANP which were acceptable to Afghanistan[26].

27.  We support EUPOL's mandate to mainstream human rights in its work and urge EUPOL to continue to support the Afghan Ministry of the Interior's efforts to eliminate torture from the system and to investigate allegations of abuses.


28.  Nigel Thomas told us that the high attrition rate in the police was a major problem. On paper, the strength of the ANP was 96,000. The target had been to reach 111,000 by October 2010 and 134,000 by October 2011. However, reaching these targets was "very difficult", given that, at one point an attrition rate of 75% had been reached. The reasons for this were varied but included the high mortality and injury rate, the lack of leave, welfare or shift patterns, and cultural factors such as deployment far from families in a country where family was particularly important. Tajiks in the north, who had expected to be policing their own community, tended to depart if they found themselves posted to Marjah and operating in the Pashtun heartlands. A policeman could be expected to remain at a checkpoint for a week, having travelled over a dangerous road to reach it. In Mr Thomas's opinion shift patterns, leave and welfare support should be developed to mitigate this problem[27].

29.  Fatima Ayub spoke of the physical dangers confronting the police. Afghans saw clearly that the police were the front line against the insurgency and were dying at a much faster rate than army or coalition forces. This in part accounted for the attrition rate, as people were reluctant to expose themselves to such risks[28].

30.  We were told by Nigel Thomas that pay was now less of a problem than it had been in the past. Rates for a basic ANCOP patrolman had increased from US$80 a month in 2008 to around $220 a month for ANCOP in more dangerous areas. (The annual Afghan GDP per capita in 2008 was US$466[29].) However, actual pay to police on the ground was often less than the nominal sum, and funds intended for the three meals a day in the package were often also skimmed away. Some action had been taken to reduce corruption: an American system of payment by crediting bank accounts through mobile phones had been a "massively positive step forward" enabling the police to gain access to their money, though there were associated problems since not everyone had a bank account and there had been instances where the Chief of Police had taken the SIM cards and collected the salaries from the bank[30].

31.  The attrition rate is an extremely serious problem for the Afghan police and poses a major challenge to EUPOL's effort to deliver sustainable improvements. We salute the courage of the Afghan police who are often the first target for insurgents. EUPOL should urge the Afghan Ministry of the Interior to pay greater attention to the causes of the attrition rate in the police, including high mortality and injury, the lack of leave, welfare or shift patterns, and cultural factors such as deployment far from families and home territory. This should also be built into EUPOL's own strategy.


32.  Corruption is a pervasive problem in the Afghan National Police, as in other aspects of the current Afghan society, with money being skimmed off at all levels. Fatima Ayub said that petty corruption included the payment of bribes to the police to investigate a crime or issue a permit. She pointed out that the police were the public face of the government in remote districts and were consequently important to the reputation of the government itself[31].

33.  Nigel Thomas commented that "from the top to the bottom of the organisation, corruption is a problem." At the top corruption was linked to organised crime; at the lowest level, money was extorted from the public at checkpoints. The weakness of the legal system was a further difficulty in combating corruption[32]. Bribery and corruption connected to the narcotics trade were inevitable and it was known that certain police chiefs had been implicated[33].

34.  However, EUPOL was heavily involved in the development of an emerging anti-corruption strategy. The Inspector-General's Department within the Ministry of the Interior had been set up as part of this. It had established covert anti-corruption teams with support from EUPOL, the US-led coalition (CSTC-A) and the UK to start investigating and arresting the perpetrators. "It's a big, long challenge, but you have to start somewhere"[34].

35.  We asked our witnesses about infiltration of the police by the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Fatima Ayub thought that the prime concern should be the need to ensure quality in policing, rather than the lesser concern of infiltration by the Taliban. There was anecdotal evidence of individuals being police by day and Taliban by night, but this raised again the broader problem of not being able to ensure the background and professionalism of recruits. An effort had been made to institute a vetting process for chiefs of police and police officers at district levels but it had become highly politicised and had been unsuccessful[35].

36.  Nigel Thomas thought it was inevitable that there would be sleepers in the force because of the easy access into an organisation desperate for recruits. He cited three incidents when western soldiers had been killed by police in an organisation of almost 100,000[36]. Rooting out sleepers was a challenge as it was very difficult to carry out any meaningful vetting process[37].

37.  Corruption continues to permeate the Afghan National Police at all levels, despite the efforts of the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and the international community to eradicate it. We urge the EU to redouble its efforts to combat corruption in the police, without which the rule of law will be impossible and the Afghan government's reputation with the people will be further damaged. Establishing a robust financial management system, including an effective chain of payments to ensure that police officers are paid in full and on time, should be a priority, since a well-paid officer is less likely to take a bribe.


38.  Karen Pierce told us that there had been a debate within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) about the benefits and risks of setting up a local auxiliary police. In the end ISAF, the international community and the Afghan government had decided that the "balance of advantage" lay in setting up such a force. This was partly to provide jobs for former insurgents—low-level fighters earning $10 a day—and to provide a community home for them; and partly because of the lack of capacity of the Afghan National Police. These forces would come under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior and were answerable to the district police chiefs. Ms Pierce sought to assure us that the auxiliary police were not in a position where they could be suborned by the local warlords. The plan was to build up the local police to around 10,000 personnel. It was envisaged that this force might last for two to five years, depending on the growth rate of the national police[38].

39.  Kees Klompenhouwer was cautious in his assessment of the auxiliary police force: "it is very much in the hands of our American friends" and outside the scope of EUPOL's mandate. Command and control were the obvious issues which would need to be addressed, and were the responsibility the Minister of the Interior; arrangements were in place for vetting and coaching this force. The professional policemen in EUPOL were concerned that the new recruits should act in accordance with "certain standards"[39].

40.  Nigel Thomas described the function of the auxiliary police as akin to a guard and security function, aimed initially at relieving the ANP from guard duties. He did not feel that EUPOL should engage in it and "... as a civilian police officer, I would want to distance myself from it". There were both benefits and potential pitfalls in arming a significant number of people across the country and it would have to be robustly managed[40].

41.  Fatima Ayub expressed strong opposition to the establishment of the auxiliary police. Thousands of people were involved and had been threatening voters during parliamentary elections. "If the EU wants to challenge something more vocally in that respect, I am sure that it would be welcome. Afghans are terrified because these militia operate with no accountability to anyone." The Americans had started the programme but it was being expanded across the country. Funds came from the PRTs. "I cannot stress enough that this is a very destructive trend ... competing with the legitimate forces and institutions ..."[41]

42.  We are concerned about the creation of the local auxiliary police in Afghanistan, which aims to fulfil a guard role. This poses a serious risk that armed groups outside formal structures could challenge the authority of the state, collude with local warlords, use their firearms improperly, instil fear in the population, and engage in corruption or the drug trade. The inadequacy of management structures and discipline in the auxiliary police are also worrying. The EU should take up with the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and the Americans the potential threat to stability in Afghanistan which will be posed by the newly created auxiliary police if effective command and control are not exercised by the Afghan Ministry of the Interior.


43.  EUPOL's priority number six is to "mainstream gender and human rights aspects within the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan National Police", (see paragraph 12). Fatima Ayub told us that NTM-A and EUPOL were both aware of the need to train women police, for more reasons than just gender balance. Where there were gender-specific crimes such as domestic violence and rape in Afghanistan, women would probably be needed to investigate them. The NTM-A training programme had recently graduated the first set of women police lieutenants[42].

44.  Nigel Thomas told us that EUPOL was developing a training centre for women officers in Bamyan. The build programme and curriculum development would take 18 months. After this, EUPOL would have to bring in trainers, train them and work on Afghan ownership of the project[43].

45.  EUPOL is right to include as a priority the training of women in its programme to mainstream gender issues and human rights within the Ministry of the Interior and the Afghan National Police, and we welcome the establishment of a training centre for women police officers in Bamyan.


46.  EUPOL's role includes improving "cooperation and coordination between the police and the judiciary with particular emphasis on prosecutors" (5th priority, see paragraph 12). The Minister described the work as: "first, developing the investigative capacity of the ANP to facilitate better trials; secondly, mentoring the Minister of the Interior and his legal adviser and working with and mentoring some Afghan prosecutors; thirdly, running courses for the Attorney-General's staff; fourthly, working with the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) and the police to advance human rights issues." Other projects included setting up a legal library in Herat and a full reference library and archive for the MoI in Kabul. Mobile anti-corruption teams had also been set up[44].

47.  Fatima Ayub criticised the failings in justice sector reform: "the most neglected area of the international effort from 2002 onwards". She believed that the same neglect applied to the EU's attitude to the justice sector[45]. She commented that the critical failure for EUPOL, and for security sector reform as a whole, was that they had been unable to look at the problem holistically: "you can train the best police in the world but it will not matter if you do not have a judiciary that can prosecute crimes" or "if they cannot actually arrest high-level government officials for crimes ... or for corruption"[46].

48.  Kees Klompenhouwer told us that a justice strategy was in place, but while EUPOL was co-operating with part of the criminal justice system, it had no ownership of it. Training had been given on standard operating procedures which were to be applied by police and prosecutors investigating a case[47]. Nigel Thomas said that corruption was widespread, in particular because prosecutors were only paid US $50 per month. He also commented that the judiciary was a problematic area but was improving[48].

49.  Beyond EUPOL's mandate, the EU collectively and Member States individually have made a significant contribution to the justice sector and furthering the rule of law in Afghanistan (see Box 1 above). Karen Pierce told us that in the south the UK funded what were called "traditional justice programmes" in an attempt to introduce an element of dispute mediation so that local communities did not have to rely on the Taliban for this. Others funded these programmes elsewhere in Helmand. However, the clarity and speed of Taliban decisions held certain attractions for Afghans who did not want to wait for government decisions, which could be fairer, but took time. This was an ongoing problem[49].

50.  The Afghan judiciary has received insufficient attention from the EU and the international community since 2001. Determined efforts are needed to build capacity and eliminate corruption in the judiciary, without which progress on police reform risks being unproductive. EUPOL should continue to work with the Ministry of the Interior to ensure that those arrested can be properly brought to trial. A greater effort must also be made to tackle corruption in the Ministry of Justice.

13   Q 164 Back

14   Q 3 Back

15   Q 15 Back

16   Q 110 Back

17   Appendix 3 Back

18   Q 110 Back

19   QQ 50-52, 57 Back

20   Appendix 3 Back

21   Q 140 Back

22   Q 113 Back

23   Q 16 Back

24   QQ 60, 61 Back

25   QQ 58, 86 Back

26   QQ 96-97 Back

27   QQ 57, 59, 62 Back

28   Q 40 Back

29   Source UN data for 2008, Back

30   QQ 59, 62, 80, 81 Back

31   QQ 5, 6 Back

32   Q 52 Back

33   Q 84 Back

34   Q 52 Back

35   QQ 16-20 Back

36   Since this evidence was given, there have been reports that 6 Americans were shot by Afghan policemen in December 2010, with further incidents in January 2011. Back

37   Q 83-84 Back

38   Q 127 Back

39   Q 163 Back

40   QQ 88-90 Back

41   QQ 38-39 Back

42   Q 45 Back

43   Q 74 Back

44   Q 123 Back

45   Q 28 Back

46   Q 27 Back

47   QQ 139, 160 Back

48   Q 67 Back

49   Q 124 Back

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