The Obama Administration’s strategy for success in Afghanistan depends heavily on the Coalition’s ability to create a large and effective Afghan National Police (ANP) force. After years of well-documented failure and nearly $7 billion, the U.S. State Department was removed as the agency responsible for the U.S. portion of the effort and the job turned over to the Department of Defense (DoD). The Pentagon is trying to restart the overall effort, expand the number of recruits that will be trained, improve the quality of the training and even create a corps of Afghani nationals as trainers. Finally, the effort to create a credible and viable police force in Afghanistan appears on the right track.
Unfortunately, the revamped effort to train the ANP may be in danger due to inadequate attention to one simple concern: the security of the foreign specialists providing the training. Since the program first started, the training of the ANP has always been contracted out to private corporations that employed hundreds of former police officers. This makes sense given how stretched our forces are and the lack of the requisite skills in the military. Under the new contract to train the ANP, private companies are to set up 14 turnkey facilities across Afghanistan. They are to provide trainers, facilities, logistics support for the operation and security. DoD wants these private contractors to be responsible for their own security. This means private guards for private trainers.
Given the Taliban’s new aggressiveness and their accelerated efforts to undermine Afghan security forces, how long will it be before these training facilities become targets? Moreover, neither the U.S. Government, DoD, nor the command in Afghanistan is taking any responsibility for the adequacy of the private security plan or for oversight and monitoring of how security is being provided. At a time when the struggle in that country is heating up and U.S. forces are taking dozens of casualties a week, this does not seem like a good way to proceed.
This is the same administration which claims to have been on top of everything being done in the Gulf to deal with the oil spill disaster. Where is the “boot on the neck” and “ass kicking” when it comes to the safety of U.S. citizens doing a terribly difficult job under dangerous conditions in Afghanistan? It is odd that at the same time that DoD is bringing all kinds of private sector support for the military back into the government — insourcing — it would be willing to outsource the security of personnel in Afghanistan and to do so without oversight and management.
Private security companies are a fact of life in Iraq and Afghanistan. They do good work. But as past calamities demonstrate, they need close supervision and oversight. Their operations need to be coordinated with and under the aegis of the military commands in the countries in which they operate. Moreover, the military needs contingency plans to deal with a failure of private security such as might result from an overwhelming attack by the Taliban.
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