[DEBATE] : Death rate for Afghan police force `staggering'
Riaz K. Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Mon Oct 1 13:47:02 BST 2007
Death rate for Afghan police force `staggering' TheStar.com - World -
Death rate for Afghan police force `staggering'
With 1,150 officers killed in 18 months, replacements can't be trained
October 01, 2007
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
KANDAHAR–In rural Panjwaii and Zhari districts, Afghan cops are being
killed faster than they can be replaced, says one of their Canadian mentors.
That terrifying fact stands as a huge roadblock to Canada's efforts to
turn over security in these troubled regions to the fledgling police force.
"The rate at which they're losing policemen can never be replenished,
unfortunately," RCMP Cpl. Barry Pitcher said.
In Panjwaii district alone – an insurgent hotbed west of Kandahar –
police officers recently had six trucks destroyed in a 20-day period
through roadside bombs and ambushes.
In July, 71 police officers were killed in regional command south, a
territory that includes Kandahar province. Nationwide, 650 officers were
killed from March 2006 to March 2007. Government officials say another
500 have been killed since then.
Just yesterday, two more died trying to defuse a large bomb in the
centre of Kandahar city, police said.
"They're in the front lines. They're doing the counter-insurgency
warfare. How are we replenishing the ranks? That's a staggering,
staggering casualty rate," said Pitcher, one of eight Canadian police
officers here helping train the Afghan force.
While serious concerns have been raised about the training and integrity
of Afghan police officers, the fatality rate highlights the stark
dangers facing this low-paid, ill-trained cadre of officers.
"In places like Panjwaii and Zhari, they're what the military calls soft
targets because they're visible, they're not as well armed, they don't
have air support and quite often they're hit bad," Pitcher said.
While Canadian soldiers move at night in armoured vehicles with night
vision gear and the ability to call in reinforcements, the Afghan police
have only Toyota trucks with six officers riding in the back, each armed
with an AK-47.
"They're more guerrilla warfare fighters than policemen," said Pitcher,
a fraud investigator in St. John's, Nfld., before he accepted a
year-long assignment in Kandahar.
"Policing in a counter-insurgency environment is probably one of the
most difficult arenas to enter. You're trying to impart peacetime police
training in the middle of a war zone," he said.
In recent weeks, the Canadians have helped Afghans reclaim territory and
establish new police substations. Canadian soldiers will remain at the
checkpoints until the Afghans are ready to assume responsibility for
That comes after complaints that Canadians abandoned the Afghans during
the summer, allowing insurgents to overrun the positions.
The danger is just one challenge facing the Afghan police force – and
the Canadians who have high hopes of passing over responsibility for
security in the rural areas.
Lt.-Col. Alain Gauthier, who heads the Canadian battle group in
Kandahar, says it will take "years" to develop the police into a
professional, capable force.
"It takes many, many years to train a professional security force to be
able to sustain themselves," he said.
He said most of them have been deployed with little, if any, training,
at low wages and in "very poor" working conditions.
"All of this has been recognized and they're working on all those
specific points to improve their living conditions," he said.
The Canadian military, for example, has just launched a new training
course, bringing 20 Afghan officers at a time to forward operating bases
for a 10-day policing course.
Meanwhile, civilian police officers like Pitcher are schooling their
Afghan counterparts in checkpoint training, roadside bomb awareness and
police techniques such as handcuffing and ethics.
Pitcher knows that Afghan police have a reputation for being on the
take, but he urges caution before passing judgment – it's often because
they haven't been paid in months.
"They're in a situation here where if they're not being paid and
corruption is an accepted way of life, they get caught up in the
environment," Pitcher said.
"They want to be policemen ... This is why they decided to wear a police
uniform ... You want to serve a greater good."
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