U.S. troop surge to aid Afghan police trainers

KABUL (Reuters) - The arrival of thousands of new U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year will help meet a serious shortage of U.S. police trainers who have so far coped with “less than ideal” circumstances, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.

A policeman patrols in the back of a truck after a a suicide blast near the U.S. base in Bagram, north of Kabul March 4, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

The United States is to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to the war-torn country to bolster some 70,000 foreign troops, including 38,000 U.S. soldiers, already on the ground battling a resurgent Taliban in the south and east.

But military commanders have recognized any “surge” in foreign troops can ultimately only buy time to expand the Afghan army and police which are seen as the long term solution to Afghanistan’s security.

The United States, which took over as the primary trainer of the Afghan police in 2007, needs around 1,500 more soldiers to carry out its mentoring program, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Monday.

“We expect a substantial portion of the shortage to be met (by the troop increase) so we will be able to continue our police mentoring mission,” spokesman for the force that trains the police (CSTC-A) U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Chris Kubik said.

Before Afghan and U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, Afghanistan had little concept of police and while progress has been made in developing the fledgling force, it is usually seen as corrupt and lagging behind the more professional army.

In many isolated outposts, the police are the only face of the Afghan government and are vulnerable to insurgent attacks, but they are also renowned for milking the populace for bribes.

Kubik agreed that the U.S. military was 1,500 trainers short but could not say exactly how many of these places would be filled by the incoming troops.

To help meet the shortage, CSTC-A has had to shift some of its soldiers training the Afghan army to training the police, the GAO said, a move that can only be seen as a short term solution as the demand for Afghan army trainers increases.

Last year Afghanistan and the international community agreed to expand the Afghan army from its current 80,000 soldiers to 134,000 by 2012.

“It has created a situation which is less than ideal,” Kubik said, when asked about using U.S. soldiers training police instead of the Afghan army.

Afghanistan’s interior ministry, which runs the police, is also seen as endemically corrupt and because of the lack of an accurate tracking system, cannot give an exact figure for the amount of police in the country, the GAO said.

Some police chiefs had also inflated their personnel rosters, creating “ghost policemen” in order to collect additional salary payments for themselves, it said.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani