In a speech to introduce a new report on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko lamented that infantry officers and aviators have been responsible for teaching Afghans on how to conduct local police work.

He specifically mentioned how one army officer interviewed for the report admitted to watching television shows “Cops” and “NCIS” to glean tips on how to train a police force. Sopko characterized this as a “misalignment” of U.S advisers.

I was involved with the training of “Afghan Local Police” while I was a rifle platoon leader and rifle company executive officer partnered with Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs. When I heard that Special Inspector Sopko was seemingly alarmed that an officer would turn to “Cops” on how to raise a police force, my first thought was “that’s not such a bad idea,” considering how the military is trained to handle such a task.

With few exceptions, our conventional and special operations forces are not law enforcement professionals. They receive little to no training or practical experience with routine law enforcement activities, let alone those that would apply in a vastly different cultural realm like Afghanistan. Sopko’s assessment, seen here, identifies the Afghan police force as more of a paramilitary organization than a law enforcement one. To that statement, I can only respond with frustration.

Even the title of the report is frustrating: “Reconstructing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces”; did they even exist in the first place? What else can we expect when you task the military with being a catch-all solution to build a nation, complete with a functioning state bureaucracy capable of providing internal security. To quote an unfortunate cliché: to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Consider what we were dealing with in rural Kandahar province, the spiritual heart of the Taliban. A population of mostly illiterate tribal people who know more or less one overriding theme of their history: never trust a foreigner. What is the metric for success when you are dealing with that? The fact that we were even able to give them rifles and have them man their checkpoints should be considered a feat. To then write a report, dismayed at our inability to raise a domestic law enforcement apparatus out of thin air, smacks of ignorance and hubris.

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Those guys squatting were our police recruits

According to the report, the United States has spent $70 billion since 2002 in building up the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), and continues to spend $4 billion annually.

The ANDSF is fighting hard, and improving in many ways,” Sopko said. “But we have to do a better job of assisting their growth. Smarter and more appropriate security assistance is vital, now in Afghanistan, and later in whatever new contingencies arise. Based on our discussions with key leaders in our military, in [Department of Defense] offices and at the National Security Council, I am cautiously optimistic.”

Featured Image from author’s personal collection. Afghan Local Police training class in 2012.