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Blue Line visits EUPOL Afghanistan – Part III


October 22, 2013
By Corrie Sloot

1855 words – MR

Blue Line visits EUPOL Afghanistan – Part III

Crime scene management is a complex process to teach in Afghanistan because there are many agencies involved in investigating major incidents. They all arrive at scenes and more-or-less independently do or take what they need for their purposes and leave.

Needless to say, scene management, evidence continuity, security and cross contamination are problems, as is a lack of information sharing.

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The police staff college is working on a master’s degree program featuring local and international training venues (including one in Turkey). Some local college staff are going to the UK to receive management training to operate the training facility. The college will eventually transition to a co-management model, with EUPOL and local staff running it together.

As in Kunduz, much of the staff college training is discussion-based because literacy rates, even among experienced police commanders, is quite low. Most work limits the amount of reading and writing to avoid exposing the low literacy rates of some students, which might jeopardise their positions.

Senior managers are provided with media training – a completely new concept to most of them. Social media (Facebook and Twitter) is coming, but it’s only really relevant in Kabul and other large cities where the Internet and cellular telephone service is available and affordable to more people.

Supply and equipment management is also taught so that students learn how to procure materials and equipment once they run out of what EUPOL supplied.

We were able to sit in on several classroom sessions, one led by a local Afghan instructor and monitored by a EUPOL instructor and the other led by two Romanian EUPOL instructors (teaching in English) and translated into Dari by a local interpreter.

While most students are male, there are a growing number of female officers being hired so some courses are taught for their specific needs and specialized job functions.

{Female officers}

In the afternoon we travelled back to the EUPOL HQ for a very interesting and enlightening session with 11 local female police officers.

Their role is “very important,” an older female officer said, “because in an Islamic country they need female police officers to attend scenes to deal with and protect women and children.”

She told about how a suspected suicide bomber dressed in a Burqa had to be searched by a female officer, who discovered the bomber was actually a man. The situation was resolved safely.

In another case, she was summoned to a drug search in a house. A female occupant sat in a back room but none of the male officers could go in, so she dealt with the woman, who turned out to be concealing a weapon and may have evaded arrest if no female officers had been present.

The woman had worked as a police officer for five years before the Taliban came to power. She fled to Pakistan as a refugee and rejoined when she returned. Her husband wasn’t happy, accusing her of not being a true Muslim. He frequently beat her so she left him, determined to stay with the force.

The second female police officer I talked to was younger and works in a family response unit in Kabul. She deals with domestic violence cases, which includes investigation, mediation and finding safe shelter for abused women and children.

She related a case she had investigated a few months earlier where a husband and his brother had beaten a woman. She helped the women escape the situation but then had her own security issues. Her work had so upset the victim’s husband that he threatened her.

In a similar case she helped a suicidal woman escape an abusive marriage where she was a man’s second wife. The officer sheltered her in her own apartment but the husband complained to her police district commander that she was abusing her powers and she was eventually forced to take her back.

Unlike the first female officer, this woman’s husband is very open-minded about her job. Unfortunately her children sometimes get harassed at school by other students.

{Police districts}

The following day we visited Police District 9 (PD9) to met with Colonel Najibulla Samsoor, the unit commander. He has a master’s degree and was working on his PhD from a civilian university. He was educated by the Russians during the occupation.

PD9 is the central police district in Kabul and is home to 600,000 people, most of the foreign military compounds, the counter narcotics ministry, Supreme Court and the east side of the Kabul International Airport. It operates 26 checkpoints and thee key traffic roundabouts. A forested area frequently used by Taliban to launch mortars and rockets against nearby targets is also in the district.

Almost 300 patrol officers work in PD9. Most have very little training and it’s difficult justifying more because many leave when they finish their three-year contracts. There are also 40 CID personnel and several police women in the family response unit.

One of Samsoor’s biggest complaints is the corruption at government agencies, including police. He also complained about the poor behaviour of some of his officers. He had recently visited Sweden as part of his training and development and found it very interesting to see policing in action there, especially the community based component.

I asked how he felt about foot patrols. “It has a good role, it’s useful and effective. The people feel better about the officers getting out of their cars instead of just racing by and leaving clouds of dust. It builds a better relationship with the people and is more effective.” He wasn’t so positive about bicycle patrols though, suggesting with a chuckle that they are for postal carriers.

One of his biggest operational challenges is the resources that he must dedicate to running checkpoints. This leaves very few officers available to do actual police work. They end up spending a lot of time fighting insurgents and the Taliban instead of dealing with community demands.

Before EUPOL arrived and started training he said they knew very little about international standards, human rights, tactics and training and modern methods of operation.

Samsoor’s first mentors were US soldiers, who unfortunately knew very little about police work. The EUPOL mentors are actual police officers so they give very good advice and guidance. His mentors when I was there were a German and a Dutch police officer. EUPOL also brought lots of new equipment, he added, which helps him run a better operation.

Computers help greatly by replacing hand-written reports and records. Networking, Internet and e-mail is all in the works and they hope to get access to the National Information Management System (NIMS), the Afghan intelligence network.

We toured the facility and grounds and watched a riot squad practice session in the parking lot. I later had a private tour of PD11, courtesy of my RCMP handler Jason Plomp. EUPOL had been working there for six months, taking over from the army, which had provided mostly logistical training.

The PD11 commander said EUPOL’s most important contributions to the operation were training, mentorship and equipment. The training and mentoring was really helpful in teaching how to properly manage cases and run the business side of a police district, said Samsoor.

PD11 is a complete operation, including personnel, logistics, training, routine operations and a radio dispatch and operations room with 25 or more dispatchers at any given time. It also has investigative, family violence, human rights and intelligence sections.

{Head of mission}

We regrouped at EUPOL HQ, enjoyed another Afghan dinner buffet and then met with EUPOL’s Head of Mission, Karl Åke Roghe, a Swedish police commissioner.

Roghe said he would be filing a positive report to the EU because he could see that the situation was changing for the better. Police development ranges widely from province to province; some are making good headway while others are making little or none.

Asked about the 200 Afghan police officers killed each month, he said that part of the problem is that police often bear the brunt of attacks because they operate 24/7, while the Afghan army usually goes home at night. He also noted that police often end up involved in combat activities which should really be done by the properly trained and equipped army.

Afghan police have made great progress but still have much to learn, Roghe admitted. EUPOL’s general withdrawal in 2014 may jeopardise this. They will soon have to rely on the local instructors EUPOL trained.

A 10 year vision for civilian policing will see 15,000 female police officers working in regular police roles in addition to their current limited specialty jobs. Roghe believes Afghans realize they need more female officers.

Later in the evening I had a one-on-one discussion with Hussain Moin, monitoring and investigation coordinator of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

The number of human rights complaints have gone up because more people have been educated about the human rights code, he explained, but actual violations have declined because officers were taught about human rights and the consequences of violating the code.

{Corruption}

One of the biggest problems in Afghanistan is the systemic corruption at all levels. This is further complicated by lack of skills and training. Prosecutors and judges also often have few or no qualifications or legal training. Some prosecutors are starting to come into the system with a university degree, but it’s often not related to law and legal processes.

The general literacy and qualifications of some judges is questionable, leading to speculation that they obtained their positions in return for bribes.

The concept of corruption is unusual. Afghan police officers consider a case to be corruption only if they did not get their fair share of a bribe, a EUPOL officer explained.

One of many problems cited with police training at the entry levels is that for the past 10 years, recruits have received only very basic training and little legal instruction. They are essentially just taught first-aid and how to shoot and run a checkpoint. This is slowly changing, with crime scene management, evidence preservation and collection and more legal training being added.

{Conclusions}

My trip to Afghanistan was an amazing experience on both a personal and professional level. It’s sad to see so many people living in such terrible conditions. Almost everything is in disrepair and strewn with garbage. The general level of security is very low. Afghans apparently don’t often dream about the future, or even tomorrow, because they have little confidence that it will ever happen.

The role of EUPOL in developing civilian policing is incredibly complicated, difficult and challenging, but will hopefully help to eventually bring peace to the country.

It has been a foundation building process that the Afghans will need to continue. It’s hoped the thorough training and mentoring and the train-the-trainer programs will give them the tools and skills to continue the process.

Unfortunately, EUPOL’s current hands-on role has already started to scale back, something that I think is a few years too early. The contribution of Canadians has been positive and will hopefully help the Afghans secure a better future.


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