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AFGHANISTAN: Insurgents Infiltrate Security Forces

KABUL, Nov 21 2009 (IPS) - A Taliban fighter infiltrated the Afghan police force, killing seven Afghan officers and British soldiers. Similar attacks have taken the lives of U.S. troops.

Afghan interior and defence ministries deny that the screening of prospective soldiers is poor, but a police officer admitted to Killid that he was accepted into the Afghan National Police (ANP) after submitting falsified papers that were never verified by recruiters (see sidebar).

On Nov. 3, in Nad e’Ali district, Helmand, a group of British soldiers from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards sat down to breakfast at an ANP compound known as Blue 25. Among them was an ANP officer named Gulbadeen from Musa Kala district. Gulbadeen had been with the ANP for two years, and just graduated from the academy last year.

But on that November morning his true allegiance became clear. While inside the Blue 25 compound, Gulbadeen drew his weapon, fired first at his Afghan commander and assistant commander and then turned the gun on the British soldiers who were there to mentor and train the Afghan police. In all, five foreign soldiers and two ANP were killed in the attack. Another five Brits were injured, before Gulbadeen fled the compound, hopped on a motorcycle and made good his escape.

Despite a massive dragnet by the Ministry of Interior (MOI), secret police and British forces, Gulbadeen remains a free man. MOI officials declined to comment about the incident, citing the continuing investigation, but a Taliban group later took credit for the deadly shootings.

Poor Screening

Many experts say that it is the recruitment process that is the root cause of rogue police and army soldiers. Khalid Pashtoon, an Afghan parliamentarian from the lower chamber, says, "The ministry of Interior Affairs does not follow the identification rules closely enough when dealing with new recruits."

He also complains of a lack of thorough background checks for applicants. He sites a lax adherence to a rule requiring prospective police or soldiers to provide a letter from a sponsor or family member as a character reference. "They do not follow their own rules," says Pashtoon.

MOI spokesman Zmarai Bashari, strongly rejects any such aspersions cast on his ministry, which oversees the ANP. He says that there are rules in place and they are followed to the letter.

"A new recruit should be no younger than 18 years of age," says Bashari, "have no criminal background and should not be addicted to drugs. He also must have a sponsor or letter from a guardian."

In addition, if a recruit is from an urban area, a governmental representative from that area must "guarantee" the recruit and know where he is from. If the recruit is from a small town or village, a similar guarantee is required from tribal elders as proof the applicant is who he says he is.

But some soldiers - speaking anonymously to Killid Weekly in order to protect their job - say that the MOI rarely enforces every aspect of existing identity confirmation regulations.

This is not the first such attack on coalition forces by a member of the Afghan security services. Last March, an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier opened fire on a group of U.S. soldiers in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing two and wounding a third. One of the dead was a female Navy officer named Florence Choe, a doctor who specialised in treating Afghan children.

Attacks like these undermine a crucial aspect of the coalition effort in Afghanistan. Battlefield training and mentoring programmes are contingent on a foundation of trust between Afghans who want a more secure nation, and foreign armies delivering knowledge and expertise. But when western soldiers lose trust in the men they are mentoring, resentment builds on both sides and the mission breaks down.

At the heart of these attacks lies a frightening commonality: poor screening of police and army applicants. Apparently all it takes to join these forces is an easily forged National Identity Card and at least one working leg.

It’s hard to blame the police and army for taking all comers however. The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating more quickly than new recruits can be given uniforms and with expanding units – such as the southern border guards – security forces will need fresh personnel for some time.

Also, one in 10 ANP officers will die in the line of duty this year. As grim as it sounds, those men need to be replaced, even if it is by those of lesser mettle.

Experts and former members of the Afghan security forces fear that the lax selection process has allowed insurgents easy access to the ranks of police and army.

Retired Colonel Aqa Muhammad Logari says that attacks like the one on Nov. 3 are proof that insurgents have a toe-hold within security forces and worries of more such attacks down the road if the government does not become more careful about whom it hires and arms.

“The government should take this issue more seriously,” Logari says. “They should not let just anyone join the army and police. It damages everything from moral to the [Afghan security forces] public image.”

Despite their protestations to the contrary, some Afghan government officials acknowledge that there is an effort on the part of insurgents to break into government security forces.

In the aftermath of the attack on British soldiers, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told The Washington Post that the ANA has had to be “very watchful because we do have the reports that [insurgents] are really trying to infiltrate.” Wardak did however say that “As far as the army’s concerned, we have been relatively successful. It has not been a major problem up to now,”

Wardak says that the army wants to implement a biometric scanning system of the kind used by coalition forces in Afghanistan. The scanners record retinal images, fingerprints and other data. The information can be checked against an existing biometric database of insurgents as well as used as a record of all successful recruits.

Wardak repeated that the police had a much bigger insurgent infiltration problem than the army.

When asked about The Washington Post story, MOI spokesman Zmarai Bashari blanched, denying the defence chief’s statement. “We do not approve this report,” Bashari says of the story. “It is not true. The MOI does not have any reports that enemies have infiltrated the police, except in one or two instances.”

Some of the friction between MOI and Minister Wardak, could come from the fact that Wardak’s ministry is responsible for the army and MOI is responsible for the police.

But despite intra-agency squabbles, parliamentarian Pashtoon says that insurgents have long tried to infiltrate government security forces, even back in the days when the government was Soviet.

“The Mujahiddin were always trying to find ways to break into the police,” Pashtoon says. “It was the perfect way to strike against the government.”

In many ways, it still is.

* This was originally published in the Killid Weekly. Afghanistan’s independent Killid Group and IPS are partners since 2004.

 
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