Next to counter-terror operations, perhaps no mission is more crucial to Afghanistan than is building its national police force. NATO brought in U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell to lead the crucial mission of training the police and the army and this week he's doing his first round of interviews since taking command. One of his "biggest challenges" can be described simply: recruiting enough people and getting them to stay. Right now, Caldwell said some units have an attrition rate of about 47 percent. That sounds horrific, but for perspective that is down from about 70 percent. Overall, the police's annual attrition rate is about 14 percent, he said.
Among the key elements Caldwell and his colleagues are deploying to keep the people they train are literacy training, the equivalent of combat and long service pay. But we hear from sources in Afghanistan that the biggest single issue for improving the effectiveness of the Afghan police is to ensure that locals actually trust them. That means turning them into people with guns whom locals believe will actually protect and serve them. And, while it is somewhat circular logic, that requires retaining people, ensuring they are educated enough to communicate effectively and training them in the basics of police work, as well as the more exciting elements of counterterrorism. As Caldwell put it during his televised press briefing this morning: "If we are going to professionalize the force, they must be able to read."
The problem of the lack of trust is deep-rooted, as Marine Brig. Gen. David Berger, head of Marine operations, noted in a conversation with reporters last week. Afghans, generally, do not understand or trust their national government and the police are key to changing that, Berger said.
Forging that force will not be a quick endeavor. When Caldwell was asked just when the Afghan police and army will be ready to start taking over from coalition forces, he said it would not be before October of next year.