Afghanistan: Corrupt Cops a Major Problem


December 12, 2005: An anti-corruption campaign by Bamian governor Habiba Surabi, the first woman to head an Afghan province, seems to be leading to an imminent show-down between Mrs. Surabi and the provincial head of the Afghan National Police. The police chief has countered charges of corruption with claims that his force is under strength and under funded. He has pointedly refused to step down voluntarily.

Police corruption, brutality, and ineptitude has been identified as a contributing factor in the hardening of the anti-government insurgency in Oruzgan Province (population 625,000 spread over 22,000 square kilometers). The principal leader of the resistance in Oruzgan, home province of the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, is Mullah Abdul Wali, former Taliban Minister for "Fostering Virtue and Suppressing Vice" (i.e., the religious police), who seems to have taken over after Omar's brother-in-law, Mullah Amanullah was arrested about a year ago. These men have strong ties among the local tribes, and are able to draw support from many of the local people. Even citizens not prone to support the insurgents, have often found that they are easier to deal with and less corrupt than the local contingent of the Afghan National Police, who have proven corrupt, unable - or unwilling - to provide much protection, and prone to use deadly force at the slightest provocation.

Police corruption has begun to attract attention at the highest levels of government. Investigations have been initiated in a number of provinces and some progress has been made. One district police chief in Takhar Province has been arrested following an incident in which peaceful demonstrator were dispersed with gunfire, leaving some dead. Rooting out police corruption, as even many advanced democratic nations have discovered, is difficult. In a country such as Afghanistan, where corruption is viewed as more or less the normal way of doing things, it is extremely difficult. Despite the difficulties, the effort to reduce police corruption is critical to breaking the back of the insurgency.

December 11, 2005: In the southern province of Uruzgan, Taliban attacked a police station, but failed, and were hit by air strikes as they retreated, leaving five dead behind. The American airpower (A-10s, F-16s and AH-64s) are on call, often in the air on patrol, can be called in quickly (10-20 minutes) and catch fleeing Taliban. This means isolated police stations are protected by their isolation, because Taliban groups must either disperse (and risk getting stopped and arrested individually) or stay together and risk death from above. In more built up areas, the Taliban can disperse and hide among the population. But too many Afghans are anti-Taliban, even in the south, and these people will often tip off the police if they spot a fleeting Taliban.

Several clashes over the weekend left about 22 Taliban dead. The Taliban are tempted to use large groups of gunmen to overwhelm police stations and grab lots of weapons and other equipment. But the getaway is more dangerous because American air power is up there looking for you.

In the southern city of Kandahar, another suicide bombing went off poorly, wounding three people when the bomber set off his explosives before he could get close enough to a military convoy.

December 9, 2005: In the south, Taliban attacks on police stations left eight policemen and six Taliban dead. In one case, nearly a hundred Taliban attacked a police post

December 8, 2005: About nine percent of the population is involved in growing poppies, which are the raw material for heroin. Along with smugglers and armed enforcers, about ten percent of Afghans are getting income from the drug trade, and most are willing to fight to hold onto this arrangement.

December 7, 2005: Typically, there were two Taliban attacks in southern Afghanistan today, leaving two policemen and two civilians dead. Hardly a "major offensive," but enough to remind everyone that there were still some armed and feisty Taliban in the region. The police staged raids, with American help, that killed nine Taliban and arrested six others.


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