Afghanistan

In 2004 the idea was to expand the Afghan National Police (ANP) from an existing force of 15,000 officers to 35,000. The goal, as is the goal in any war-torn country, whether the effort be led by the US Department of State or the United Nations, is to establish security. That means ramping up the military and police because without security the country can go to hell in a hand basket in a hurry. The difference between Afghanistan and the other countries where I would eventually serve was that there was still an ongoing war. There was no official resolution, there had been no surrender of an enemy force. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, the U.S. military and its allies) were still battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


The challenges were daunting: 80% of those applying for the ANP and the existing force could not read or write; the pay for an ANP officer was $15 per month; corruption reigned; tribal obstacles abounded, because loyalty to a tribe was paramount to government loyalty; Afghanistan was the heroin capital of the world; weeding out Taliban and al-Qaeda plants was a major concern (and still was 16 years later).


That was just out of the starting block. The unemployment rate in Afghanistan was listed just above 11% but you wouldn't guess it driving through the streets of Kabul. Thousands of bearded men of all ages dressed in shalwar kameez or khet partug with kufis or lungees on their heads stood the streets of the capital, seldom moving or so it seemed, advertent eyes observing occupants of passing vehicles.


But recruitment and training was not the focus of all seventeen of us assigned to work with the Ministry of Interior. Some were in operations (patrol and traffic, i.e. uniform services), others advised on criminal investigations, and there was a policy & procedure unit as well. I was sent to narcotics. I was assigned there because once upon a time in my police career,19 years earlier, I had served fifteen months in a narcotics unit. I did not question the assignment, but it made me wonder how well organized our effort could be since DEA agents were assigned to the American Embassy in Kabul. Why would a retired deputy chief of police who once upon a time did a stint in narcotics as a young cop be going to advise the police general of narcotics operations for the country of Afghanistan?


I will give you insight into the contracting business. Everybody wants a piece of the pie because the contracts are lucrative and Uncle Sam does not have the best accountability practices in the world. Once a contractor wins the bid for a government program within a given country, the hiring begins. Sometimes there is oversight from the State Department on who should be hired for what position, and sometimes not.


Dyncorp had won the contract for Afghanistan. They also had the Kosovo contract, but they lost the bid to keep Kosovo, a contract which they had held since its inception in 1999. Dyncorp paid officers in Kosovo $90K per year and yet lost the contract bid despite the fact that the company that won upped the officer pay to $106,000. How could a company spend more on officer salaries yet still have the lowest bid to win the contract? The answer is easy: they were taking less of a share of the pie in order to up morale. At the time, there were about 600 USA police officers in Kosovo and they each got a $16K raise. That equals $9,600,000. If a company can cough up nearly ten million dollars annually to increase employees salaries rather than management putting the dough in their pockets, it gives one a pretty good idea of how lucrative government contracts are.


The person selected by Dyncorp to oversee the expansion of the ANP from 15,000 officers to 35,000 was a retired captain from an 80 man police department. He had no overseas experience and limited knowledge of police training, but his department was just miles down the freeway from Dyncorp headquarters in Texas. He was given the title of contingent commander (the overall person in charge, the program manager, was a retired Army brigadier general and he was sharp, but he had his hands full with all other aspects of the mission, which included construction, finances, building relationships within the government and community, etc.).


Why would a corporate conglomerate with access to individual resumé's from metropolitan, state and federal law enforcement agencies choose a captain from an 80 man PD? Good question.


When I arrived in Afghanistan there were men whom I had served with in Kosovo. For the most part they were retired professionals with decades of experience, training, and knowledge. They had arrived less than eight weeks earlier but had advice to give about what to expect, and the first words out of their collective mouths was do not trust the contingent commander (CC). He lies, he doesn't know what he is doing, and he will throw you under the bus at every opportunity, they said. They gave me examples of the CC issuing verbal operational directives which failed or went bad, and in front of the program manager denying that he ever gave the orders and that the officers under his command either misunderstood what he wanted or were outright making up stories.


Welcome to the mission.


Despite the fact that I believed these men, I told myself to not judge the CC based on what they had to say. "Clean slate" I said to myself. I would give the man a fair shot and see what he's all about. I had just arrived and in all fairness could not form an evaluation of a man I had only exchanged pleasantries with upon arriving at the compound.


Stupid me.

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J.R. LONSWAY

AUTHOR | RETIRED DEPUTY CHIEF OF POLICE

J.R. Lonsway served 22 years with the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department and retired as a Deputy Chief of Police. After retirement he served with the U.S. Department of State as a police advisor in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Lebanon, and South Sudan. He is a former U.S. Marine.

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