The Afghan police who join the Taliban

Author: By Kim Sengupta in Nad-e-Ali, Helmand

The charred wreckage had been gathered together and put on display outside the
police station at Nad-e-Ali as a reminder of how the force had lost far
higher numbers from their ranks than either Western troops or the Afghan
army – cannon fodder in this savage war against the Taliban.

?Our transport do not have any protection against bombs, the enemy are better
armed than us, our families live here and they get intimidated, and my men
often don?t get paid? said Captain Haji Laljan . ?Yes, some of them go over
to the other side and join the Taliban we are aware of this. We try to stop
it, but it will happen.?

Today?s killings in Nad-e-Ali ,the joint highest death toll for British
soldiers in the Afghan conflict, was carried out by one of Captain Laljan?s
men, probably with the help of others in the rank, raising fears in the
ranks of the troops that they cannot turn their backs on the men who are
supposed to be allies against the insurgents.

The Afghan security forces are the key in the West?s exit strategy from this
bloody and increasingly unpopular war. The police, in particular, are
supposed to be the lynchpin of a safe civic society. As part of his grand
strategy to turn the tide of this war, the US general commanding Nato
forces, Stanley McChrystal, has called for the size of the force to be
increased from the current 82,000 to 160,000.

But the police are poorly equipped and paid, badly trained with many members
steeped in corruption using their uniforms and guns for extortion of the
local population. Many deal in drugs or are themselves addicts. Now it is
the rising prevalence of police officers taking part in attacks against
Western troops and officials which has raised deep worries about just how
much the force has been infiltrated by the Taliban.

Four weeks ago a policeman in Wardak province opened fire on American soldiers
out on patrol, killing two of them before fleeing. Last year, over a period
of less than a month, Afghan police twice attacked US forces, killing two
soldiers and wounding three others. Last week men in police uniforms forced
their way into a guest house in Kabul and murdered five UN election workers.
They were not members of the force, but had police issue radio transmitters
and detailed information on the target of their attack, which, say
investigators, could only have come from official sources.

It is in the Helmand frontline, in areas like Nad-e-Ali, that there is the
most apprehension that police officers may switch sides – either due to
intimidation or money or religious and ideological commitment.

Unlike the Afghan army, which deploys its members away from home areas, the
police have to live and work in communities which has its share of Talibs.
At the same time, the police have access to the camps of their mentors,
British and other Nato forces and share accommodation at checkpoints.

Sitting in the UK headquarters in Nad-e-Ali, Lieutenant Mohammed Shakir said
?I do not care if they try to frighten me. But in some cases the terrorists
will threaten them with doing harm to the children, to the parents, and say
you must help us if you want them to be safe. And sometimes you see this is
working.

?There has been a problem with opium, but that is the case in many parts of
the country. We have a strict policy against drugs, but whether it is
enforced or not depends on the commander. We have a good commander here.?

On average an Afghan policeman gets $120 a month. Due to corruption and
inefficiency in the system they often go unpaid, or have some of their wages
taken by senior officers. Private Ghour Khan said ? It is not a lot of money
for risking your life every day and then sometimes other people take their
cuts or you have to wait a long time to get the money. The Taliban pay their
fighters and they pay them on time, so there is temptation. What we need to
do is get rid of the corruption.?

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