Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Losing the Good War

Editorial
The New York Times
December 5, 2006

Afghanistan was supposed to be the good war — and the war America was winning. But because of the Bush administration’s inattention and mismanagement, even the good war is going wrong.

The latest grim news is that after years of effort — and more than $1 billion spent — Afghanistan’s American-trained police force is unable to perform even routine law enforcement work. According to an article in yesterday’s Times, investigators for the Pentagon and the State Department found that the training program’s managers did not even know how many police officers were serving, while thousands of trucks and other American-purchased police equipment have simply disappeared.

The failure to provide local security — or even a semblance of impartial justice — helps explain why so many Afghans have lost confidence in the pro-Western government of President Hamid Karzai, and why a growing number are again turning to the Taliban for protection. The failure to stand up an effective police force also helps explain why opium cultivation rose by nearly 60 percent this year.

Creating even the most basic government institutions was always going to be difficult in a country as poor as Afghanistan. According to one expert, 70 percent or more of the recruits in the police training program are illiterate — not surprising in a country with a male literacy rate of only 43 percent. But the State Department and Pentagon compounded these problems, handing off the bulk of the police training work to an expensive private contractor and then failing to vigilantly monitor the program. We have seen that time and again in Iraq, where experts say the police training is at least as flawed.

There are many culprits for Afghanistan’s many problems. Mr. Karzai needs to do a lot more to curb the corruption that is rife among his political appointees. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan needs to do a lot more to stanch the torrent of Taliban fighters crossing his border into Afghanistan. NATO members need to send more troops to Afghanistan — with far fewer restrictions on how they fight.

As for fixing the police training program, there is little hope of that without also reforming the Afghan Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, and is mired in both incompetence and corruption. Washington has sent some advisers to help clean up the ministry, but the effort is moving far too slowly. And the United States and its allies need to send a lot more police advisers to walk the beat with the newly graduated recruits, who get just a few months of classroom training. That is standard practice for training effective police forces, but it has not been tried in Afghanistan.

Mr. Bush’s decision to rush off to invade Iraq meant that Afghanistan would be shortchanged when it came to resources and to policy makers’ priority lists. The cost of that inattention can be seen in the failing Afghan police force. It can also be seen in the Taliban’s growing strength, the mounting death toll of Afghan civilians and NATO troops, and the unraveling of the Karzai government. So much for winning the good war.

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