British deaths raise questions about Afghan police

A casualty is taken to a base hospital in Afghanistan’s Helmand province after five British soldiers were killed.

Associated Press

A casualty is taken to a base hospital in Afghanistan’s Helmand province after five British soldiers were killed.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The killing of five British troops by a rogue Afghan police officer underlines concerns about training and discipline within the ranks and possible insurgent infiltration of a police force that the U.S. hopes will be its ticket out of Afghanistan someday.

The attack caused anguish in Britain, where public support for the war has been waning. Britain is the largest contributor to NATO forces in Afghanistan after the United States, and its continued presence here is central to President Barack Obama's strategy as he weighs dispatching tens of thousands more U.S. troops.

The five British soldiers, who had been advising Afghan police officers, were shot and killed Tuesday at a checkpoint where they were living in the volatile southern province of Helmand, bring the British death toll in the war to 229. Another six soldiers were wounded as were two Afghan police officers when the soldiers returned fire.

The gunman escaped, and his motive was unclear.

The incident, which echoed two police shootings of U.S. soldiers last year, raised questions about whether international forces are trying to recruit and train Afghan police too quickly.

"There isn't a lot of vetting of police before they are hired," Peter Galbraith, the former top American official at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4.

In Washington, Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell defended Afghan forces and the international training effort, a main part of the U.S. strategy for the war.

"However tragic and criminal this act was, it represents a rare and, luckily, thus far isolated incident. (NATO) troops continue to partner effectively with the Afghan national security forces and continue to build their capacity to take the lead in ultimately defending their country on their own."

Training and operating jointly with Afghan police and soldiers, as the British were doing Tuesday, are key to NATO's strategy of dealing with the spreading Taliban-led insurgency and, ultimately, allowing international forces to leave Afghanistan.

But obstacles are far greater with the police than with the army. A Defense Department Inspector General report, released in September, found that Afghan police are crippled by serious corruption and subject citizens to frequent street-level "shake-downs." Senior officials lack control of their personnel and do not routinely monitor job performance, the report said.

French minister: Don't wait for U.S.

Europe should take the opportunity of a new Afghan administration to coordinate its policies on Afghanistan and not wait for Washington to make all the decisions, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said Wednesday. "We need to speak as Europe to the Americans" on Afghanistan, he said, and end the differences in policy and military rules on the ground, where the Germans fight only if fired upon and each member of NATO has different rules of engagement. "In Europe we are acting and fighting and going to war, but we are not talking to one another, and it's shameful," he said. "We have to be together and improve the command structure," he said. Asked if the NATO alliance was not working very well in Afghanistan, he said, "It's not working at all."

British deaths raise questions about Afghan police 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 10:47pm]

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