Failing Afghanistan’s Cops


Police training has been a crucial part of American counterinsurgency warfare and global policy for a long, long time. During the American occupation of Haiti, which began in 1915, the establishment and training of an American-led Gendarmerie d’Haiti would contribute to the sad, brutal modern history of that island; in the late 1950s and 1960s, U.S. police training helped shape South Vietnam into a quasi-police state ready to wield torture as a weapon of daily life; in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, U.S. police training under thuggish dictatorships led to torture and extrajudicial killings, a history painfully captured in journalist A.J. Langguth’s presciently titled book Hidden Terrors; in Central America in the 1980s, it led to a flowering of extrajudicial death squads. The story of U.S. police training could, in many ways, act as a substitute history of human rights violations.

All in all, it’s not a pretty tale and it’s not a history that’s left this country untouched, as Alfred McCoy, an expert in police training and counterinsurgency as well as the author of Policing the Empire, wrote for TomDispatch last November. What happens in our distant counterinsurgency wars, including the policing part of them, has a nasty habit of returning to these shores as ever more repressive surveillance and policing techniques in “the homeland.”

Still, when it comes to pure futility, not to speak of the generous enrichment of a few private corporate contractors, the various U.S. police-training programs in Afghanistan have surely taken the cake. As a multi-billion dollar exercise in disaster, our significantly outsourced training programs for Afghanistan’s “insecurity” forces are hard to beat. TomDispatch regular Ann Jones found this out in the summer of 2009 when she spent time with recruits being trained for an Afghan army that seemed barely to exist. She couldn’t help wondering, then, what might have happened if those training billions had gone into agriculture, health care, or a civilian job corps (either in Afghanistan or the U.S.).

Now, Pratap Chatterjee, an expert on the rise of the Pentagon’s corps of private contractors (whose classic book on the major private military contractor of our era, Halliburton’s Army, has just been published in paperback), considers the full history of our woeful Afghan police-training program. Eight years of bizarre efforts that add up to vanishingly little. At a time when desperate state governments in the U.S. are slashing budgets for everything from local education to mass transit systems, it becomes all the more remarkable how many dollars the Pentagon has poured—and continues to pour—down the Afghan rabbit hole.

Chatterjee, a TomDispatch regular, who last reported here on how corruption rules Afghanistan, returns to—you might say—the scene of the crime and offers an unparalleled history of the folly that passes for bringing “security” to Afghanistan. (If you have a moment, don’t forget to catch Timothy MacBain’s TomCast in which Chatterjee discusses the lives of contractor/trainers in Afghanistan by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.)

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