Afghan forces not ready for security role, warns Oxfam

From Dr Ian Davis of NATO Watch.

One of Britain’s leading charities, Oxfam, has warned that Afghan security forces are not ready to take over the responsibility for keeping peace and security in the country – the tasks presently carried out by NATO forces. The report, entitled No Time to Lose – Promoting the Accountability of the Afghan National Security Forces (published by Oxfam and three other rights groups) cites numerous human rights violations and insufficient training of the Afghan security forces.

“There is a serious risk that unless adequate accountability mechanisms are put in place, violations of human rights and humanitarian law will escalate – and Afghan civilians will pay the price,” the report says. The report estimates that 40,000 Afghan police officers have had no training at all. Oxfam says there are no effective systems for civilians to lodge complaints against police or soldiers.

“The Afghan people have high hopes for their security forces,” said the report’s author, Rebecca Barber. “They need to know these forces will protect them and be brought to justice if they commit abuses”. Alleged rights violations include night raids carried out without adequate precautions to protect civilians, the recruitment and sexual abuse of children, mistreatment during detention, and abuse of civilians by local police many see as little more than “criminal gangs”.

Limited US troop withdrawals are due to begin in July and Afghan forces are due to take full responsibility for national security from 2014. However, the inadequacy and unaccountability of local Afghan police and security forces has been an ‘open secret’ for many years, and the report says that serious efforts to strengthen the professionalism and accountability of Afghan forces only really began in 2009. The timing of the Oxfam report coincides with the recent death of Osama bin Laden, which has given rise to increasing demands that the US and NATO allies accelerate the withdrawal of their forces.

The Oxfam report urges states supporting the Afghan national security forces to:

  • Improve the quality of training for the national forces – ensuring that all components of the security forces are appropriately trained in human rights and international humanitarian law, and that training for the police includes sufficient emphasis on accountability, good governance, the rule of law, and community-based policing;
  • Provide more substantial political and financial support to Afghan government institutions and mandated independent bodies that receive and investigate complaints against the national forces; and
  • Support the Afghan government to ensure that: (a) personnel who abuse their authority, violate codes of conduct or otherwise fail to fulfil their obligations under Afghan or international law are transparently investigated and appropriately disciplined and/or prosecuted; and (b) incidents resulting in civilian harm are properly monitored and followed by credible investigations.

There are currently about 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan and 285,000 Afghan troops and police, with plans to increase Afghan forces to a total 305,000 by October 2011, according to the US Defence Department. US and NATO commanders say they expect to meet targets set for Afghan security forces, although they acknowledge that high drop-out rates remain a major problem. The head of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan said in February that the “attrition” rate in the Afghan army had hit 32% in 2010. Such drop-out rates for the army and police meant the NATO training mission had to take in 111,000 recruits last year to expand the force by 79,000.