Europe’s Problematic Contribution to Police Training in Afghanistan

Federiga Bindi
Federiga Bindi Former Brookings Expert

May 4, 2009

As the NATO 60th anniversary summit was approaching, Europeans were worried about Obama’s demands for further assistance, particularly more combat troops in Afghanistan. In the event, though, they were surprised (and relieved) by the attitude of the new administration, which only asked them to contribute in ways and on the terms which Europeans had long asserted best matched their capabilities and public mood. This reflect the fact that European public opinion – generally un-fond of Bush’s policies, strained by economic crises, lost without inspiring leaders and with a strong suspicion of anything that smells like combat – is still unconvinced about involvement in the region.

The result of the summit therefore presents Europe with an opportunity and a danger. They have an opportunity to demonstrate to the Americans, to NATO and to the world, that they can fulfill their promises and contribute meaningfully to a successful outcome in Afghanistan. The danger is that Europe will fail to deliver. It is early days yet, but so far Europeans have been doing what they do best: talking, proposing clever ideas and quarreling with each other. One idea put forward by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s comes in area that will be a key test for Europe and a key capability for Afghanistan: police training. Kouchner believes that an enhanced European profile, including a possible role for the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF), a multinational group composed of police forces with military status from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Romania. Kouchner asserted that the EGF the potential to create a more robust system for police training in Afghanistan. The French proposal to use the EGF in Afghanistan instantly caught the attention of the media.

While showing great appreciation for the French availability to provide significant support in a key sector, a number of countries, including Italy, deemed it preferable to continue working in close cooperation with the American training command, CSTC-A (Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan). They felt that, while there is definitely a need to encourage more European contributions, there are already too many separate initiatives and institutions involved in Afghan police training. The current challenges to Afghanistan’s stability are such that the deployment of a new and separate European police training mission requires a careful assessment of its efficacy and real added value. This is even more relevant after the recent decision to establish NTM-A (NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan). More European contributions should hopefully fit in the command structures of already existing international missions (i.e. EUPOL or CSTC-A/NATO) and operate within the conceptual framework and doctrine established by the Afghan government in coordination with the IPCB (International Police Coordination Board). NTM-A should represent the main comprehensive toolbox of ongoing and future international activities in this regard. As for the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF), they felt it could play a role in Afghanistan within NTM-A and its chain of command, and welcomed further discussions. A possible EGF involvement in NTM-A could for instance be envisaged as soon as the NTM-A planning process is completed, in order not to interfere in an already complex activity.

As Italy would be a major partner in the EGF because of its expertise and work on the ground with the Carabinieri – the famed Italian military police – the Quai d’Orsay was understandably not happy with Rome’s disagreement with the French proposal. But accusing the Italians of being unwilling to enhance the European action ignores the substantial Italian contribution to police training in Afghanistan.

Italy’s contribution to Afghanistan dates back to the spring 2002 when a squad of the Carabinieri’s Special Intervention Group (GIS), after accompanying former King Zahir Shah back to Afghanistan, remained in Kabul and trained his Afghan security team. A platoon of Carabineri, integrated into Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), carried out training activities in support of the Afghan National Police (ANP) through 2003. A Carabinieri team, with training functions, was then present in Herat from the outset of the Italian-led PRT in 2005 and cooperated with US training commands in support of the Herat-based Afghan police. Between 2007 and 2008, the Italian contribution in support of the Afghan Police sector reached its present size. As of today, Italy’s contribution in the police sector totals approximately 70 people, mainly Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza (financial police): 34 Carabinieri in Adraskan (Western Afghanistan) train the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) in cooperation with CSTC-A; 13 Guardia di Finanza officers in Herat train the Afghan Border Police (ABP) and custom officers in cooperation with CSTC-A.

At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg-Kehl, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced a “Carabinieri surge”. The total number of Carabinieri will thus be brought shortly to 100. The added value of the Carabinieri training methodology is particularly appreciated by the US government which does not possess police forces with military (or militarized) status such as the Italian Carabinieri. The Italian contribution in support of the police sector is mirrored by Italy’s participation, as a full member, in the work of the International Police Coordination Board (IPCB) and in its relevant bodies. Italy has provided its financial contribution to the Law & Order Trust Fund (LOTFA), the UN managed financial instrument that supports building and equipping the Afghan police.

But Italy, consistent with its traditional pro-European stance, also supports the EU role in Afghanistan. On top of its other contributions, Italy is making a valuable contribution to EUPOL, as it has since that mission’s inception. An Italian Carabinieri officer has held the position of EUPOL Deputy Commander in recognition of Italy’s support to the mission. Nearly 20 officers (Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza and other contracted civilians) are integrated into the EUPOL and additional personnel from the Guardia di Finanza will soon join EUPOL. Overall, Italy is the third largest contributing nation to EUPOL. In cooperating with CSTC-A over the last years, the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Finanza have continuously engaged both the Afghan authorities and the US commands in developing training curricula more in tune with a European approach to policing.

Europe can be pivotal in succeeding in Afghanistan. As time passes, it becomes clearer every day that the solution to the Afghan question cannot be a military one. The international community must increasingly target the civilian aspects of the crisis, and multiply its efforts at institution–building and economic recovery. The Afghan authorities and people also need to be encouraged to assume greater responsibility and to take charge of their own future. In other words, success will depend on civil engagement. With the upcoming elections in August, momentum is there. The needs of a population that has been stressed by 30 years of war and by a corrupt government that doesn’t deliver services– must be taken into account; (good) governance has to become the priority. Without good governance there is no rule of law, no democracy, no economic recovery, and no hope for the population but a turn back to the Taliban. In order to succeed in Afghanistan, there is a critical need for an enhanced civilian effort and mentoring initiatives.

While the US is pulling military forces out of Iraq to put in Afghanistan, they still need a very robust civilian capability in Iraq and don’t have the resources for a significant civilian surge in Afghanistan. In all, there will be a surge of 21.000 US troops and of … around 200 civilians (!). At least ten times more people are needed for mentoring activities – including retired government officials, CEOs, judges etc. who could bring their own expertise to the area. This is where Europe can make a difference. In turn, Afghanistan will be an international ‘matriculation test’ for the European Union. The EU can to take up this challenge by focusing on the areas in which it can offer tangible added-value: governance and the rule of law.

Indeed, the EU (European Community and the Member States combined) have committed some EUR 8 billion in aid to Afghanistan for the period 2002-2010. For 2007-2010, the EU, through the European Commission, has pledged about EUR 700 million for Afghanistan. 40% of the EU commitment goes to governance – including police and justice – 30% to rural development, alternative livelihoods and food security, and 10% to health. Three fronts should now be given priority by the EU: (a) upgrading the EUPOL mission, complying with the EU’s commitment to redouble its manpower; (b) providing support for the forthcoming Afghan elections, by deploying an Election Observation Mission; (c) providing financial assistance for stabilization and reconstruction, particularly in the fields of health care and agriculture, and ensuring that the funds are properly spent. At the same time, attention should be paid to enhancing the profile of the EUPOL mission, the European flag already in Kabul, by increasing presence in the EU Mission.