Afghanistan’s police force, whose success and stability is crucial to allowing the UK government to withdraw British troops, is losing nearly one in five recruits every year, new figures reveal.
British Foreign Office statistics show that more than 20,000 officers from the Afghan National Police (ANP), the country’s main law enforcement agency, have left over the last year. The figures will cause concern in the British armed forces, where the success of the police is seen as the basis for handing control to an Afghan government in 2014 and British troop withdrawal in 2015.
Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said the figures are “worryingly high” and could play a significant role in determining when Britain can leave.
“In order to get into the condition where we can hand over the country to the Afghans themselves, to manage the security of the country, we need not only a capable army, we need a strong police force,” he said. “We are a long way from there. The Afghan national army has still got a long way to go even if it is improving, and the police are some way behind that.”
Kemp, who was responsible for training Afghan forces, including the ANP, in 2003, said that the figures would be key in defining when British forces can leave.
“Numbers are still important. If we are not getting to where we need to be in terms of either quality or numbers, that is a major concern in terms of being able to hand over to the Afghans in 2014 as is our aspiration,” he said.
The ANP serves as a single law enforcement agency across the country and includes uniformed police, border police, highway police and the criminal investigation department. It had 116,367 officers in October. An estimated 31,343 officers were recruited by the NATO training mission in Afghanistan between January and October.
The attrition rate — including losses caused by deaths, desertion and dismissals, often due to positive drug tests — is currently at approximately 18 percent per annum, with monthly attrition at 1.5 percent, according to figures released to the British Labour party.
Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Yvette Cooper is pushing for a political process in Afghanistan to support the British military’s effort and called for greater emphasis on the retention of officers.
“For the Afghan strategy to work, our troops need to be able to hand over to stable, well functioning Afghan security forces,” she said on Saturday. “Simply increasing their numbers isn’t enough and needs to be accompanied by stronger work to retain properly trained officers who can do the job. We also need a durable political settlement which is sustainable at local level.”
The problem of retaining police officers was highlighted by Lieutenant---General William Caldwell last year when he claimed that drug abuse, illiteracy and desertion are just some of the problems among Afghanistan’s police. He said the vast majority of ANP members still “did not know the law they were responsible to enforce.”
“Not unexpectedly, most Afghans had come to view the ANP as lawless armed men, rather than trusted law enforcement officials,” his review said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, wants the handover completed by the end of 2014, allowing British troops to leave combat roles by 2015. Last week he announced further funding for the Afghan police and said this was a vital component of the timetable.