Peacekeeping: Going Native In Afghanistan


June 13, 2010: Police corruption in Afghanistan is so rampant, and so damaging to the counter-insurgency campaign, that the issue made the cover of TIME magazine. The Americans have realized that something needs to be done to fix this as quickly as possibly but as competently as possible. Excellent soldiers (or police officers) cannot be produced overnight.  

Afghanistan's border police are especially crucial in the battle against, amongst others, the Taliban, smugglers, and drug traffickers, since activities along the country's borders often make or break the success of the insurgents. Stopping them is a priority. 

Earlier this month, around 241 officers of the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) graduated from their training classes at a NATO center. Since late 2009, the NATO center has trained over 4,000 police recruits. Their training lasted 14 weeks and taught many of the same things that police in the U.S. learn such as first aid, riot control, and sidearm training. The course, however, was beefed up with extra training on urban combat, IED countermeasures, and defensive driving.   

At the same time, in recognition of the more military-like role the Afghan Border Police shoulder in the country, 24 officers of the Border Police graduate from a course known as the Advanced Patrolman Tactics Course, which consists of a great deal of live-fire training, advanced CQB tactics, and even more defensive driving instruction. 

There is a great deal of justification for paying more attention to the development, training, and integrity of Afghanistan's Border Police. Depending on the status of the country, being a border officer can be the most dangerous job on the table. In countries where there are insurgencies and major problems with smuggling, border police are exponentially more likely to be either extremely corrupt or in mortal danger. There is too much money at stake and to be had by all. Furthermore, in places like the Sinai, Chechnya (especially in the '90s), certain parts of the former Soviet Union, and Mexico, a kind of Wild West status quo exists in many border regions, all too often resulting in a state of affairs where poorly paid, sometimes under-equipped police fear the criminals and smugglers instead of the other way around. 

However, increased rates of pay, better equipment, excellent training, and more manpower are techniques that seem to gain good results where they are practiced. In countries where insurgencies are, or have been particularly violent and nasty, special police units have sometimes been formed to take an active role in the war, dropping their "arrest and investigate" mission for a more simple, and lethal, "shoot to kill". The two best successes were in Rhodesia in the '70ss, where the British South Africa Police's (BSAP) Support Unit (SU) was actively used to hunt down and kill guerrillas in the bush. The "Black Boots", and the SU was known, gained a legendary reputation for its kill ratios, tracking skills, and employment of small unit tactics, making it a unit that the insurgents truly feared. During South Africa's war in what is today Namibia, the South West Africa Police (SWAPOL) set up a special operations police units known informally as "Koevoet" (Afrikaaner for "Crowbar"), and formally as the South West Africa Police Counter Insurgency Unit. Koevoet did the same thing as the Rhodesian Support Unit, only better. Patrolling on foot or in lightly armored Casspir vehicle, Koevoet troops, many of whom were native Africans already experts at tracking, were dreaded by Namibian guerrillas and earned themselves a famous (or infamous) reputation for their successes. 

As the war in Afghanistan drags on, many wonder whether the Afghan government, sick of corruption in the police ranks and finding that traditional policing methods are insufficient, might start looking to set up their "Koevets" in the Border Police. 



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