U.S. plans major Afghan police boost: Holbrooke

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama plans a significant increase in the size of the Afghan police force, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said on Saturday.

Richard Holbrooke (C), U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaks to the media outside India's ministry of external affairs in New Delhi February 16, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

Holbrooke said the Obama administration’s initial plan to help boost Afghan police numbers from 78,000 to 82,000 over the next three to four years was now regarded as inadequate.

“Everyone we talked to without exception -- Afghans, insurgency experts, the government, American military -- agreed that was not sufficient,” he said.

“So we are looking in conjunction with our allies and friends in the Afghan government at a very significant increase,” he told a security conference in Brussels.

“The police aren’t very good right now. We know they are the weak link in the security chain,” he added. “We need to increase the number, increase the quality and increase the training.”

Holbrooke said figures cited by the New York Times of a combined goal of about 400,000 Afghan troops and police officers were “speculative” and Obama had yet to finalize the numbers.

International efforts so far to train the Afghan police force are widely considered as insufficient.


U.S. officials said last week the Obama administration was weighing several options as part of a policy review expected this month for Afghanistan, where insurgent violence is at its worst since the U.S.-led intervention there began in late 2001.

Holbrooke said a “vast task” lay ahead to improve the international efforts in Afghanistan.

Washington wants increased focus on alternative livelihoods to the opium farming that is helping fuel the insurgency and will ask the U.S. Congress for “very significantly expanded funding for agriculture sector job creation,” he said.

“The failures in the civilian side, from drugs, to agriculture, to police, to information ... are so enormous we can at least hope that if we get our act together ... we can do a lot better,” he added.

The Afghan government and its international backers have already announced plans to increase the size of the Afghan army substantially to 134,000 soldiers, from 70,000 in mid-2008.

Among the ideas are scaling back the U.S. mission to focus on counter-terrorism and the training of Afghan forces; making a focused counter-insurgency push in the violent south and east; and pursuing a wider campaign to protect civilians.

Hundreds of civilian officials from across the U.S. government would be sent to Afghanistan as part of the new strategy in a sort of “civilian surge.”

On Thursday, France proposed sending European Union gendarmes to train paramilitary police in Afghanistan as part of efforts to step up training of Afghan security forces.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Tim Pearce