KABUL The Afghan government sacked two provincial police chiefs for negligence, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday, highlighting problems in a force often accused of corruption and which is key to security in Afghanistan.
Poorly paid, poorly trained and ill-equipped, the police are the frontline in the fight against Taliban insurgents. Often stationed in remote outposts, they suffer far higher casualties than the more mobile and better equipped Afghan army.
The Interior Ministry said it had sacked the provincial police chiefs of Dai Kundi in the centre of the country and Wardak just southwest of the capital, Kabul.
"These two people weren't able to provide proper services to the people and couldn't attract the support of the people, they weren't able to establish security and stability properly," ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told a news conference.
The police chief in Wardak stands accused of pocketing officers' salaries, leading many in his force to abandon their posts.
"We are investigating him," said Bashary. Policemen earn only $70 a month.
It was in Wardak that Taliban rebels kidnapped two German engineers and five Afghans last week. The body of one of the Germans was later found on the side of a road.
Wardak, only an hour's drive from Kabul, is among provinces previously regarded as safe which have witnessed a rise in Taliban violence in the last few months.
Only a few hundred Turkish troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are stationed there and they are not allowed by their government to conduct offensive operations. Security in the province therefore largely falls to the police.
It was a breakdown in law and order that allowed the Taliban to get a foothold in Wardak and this picture is being repeated across Afghanistan, analysts say.
"The big problem is not the lack of ISAF forces, it is the chaos surrounding the Afghan government national police assets there," said a senior Western diplomat who declined to named.
The problems also affect the Interior Ministry which appoints officers and controls the force.
The ministry "is notoriously corrupt, factionalized and an increasingly important actor in Afghanistan's illegal drug economy," said a report this month by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent think-tank.
A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank last year accused elements in the Interior Ministry of an "increasing role" in organizing "protection for criminal markets" and the facilitation of illicit activities.
From 2002 until this year, Germany led the training of Afghan police and contributed some $80 million to a total of around $200 million spent on the force in that time.
The European Union has now taken over Germany's role and the United States is plowing more money in -- $2.5 billion for 2007 alone. But deep-rooted remedies may be needed.
"Without comprehensive reform of the Ministry of Interior, police reform efforts will fail and the money spent on reform will be wasted," the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit said.