From War to Crime: Law Enforcement and Next Steps in Afghanistan

by Chris Borgen

Wired’s Danger Room has a new piece about law enforcement reform and efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. In particular, it focuses on the work of U.S. and Romanian Special Operations Forces in training Afghan law enforcement.

Behind the scenes across the embattled country, a special breed of U.S. soldier is working closely with a new style of Afghan police to enforce law and order in Afghanistan’s lawless countryside. They’re trying to defeat the insurgency by treating it like a criminal problem rather than a military one. And they’re planned to be at it even after the International Security Assistance Force’s conventional troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

In that sense, the trial was a possible preview of the Afghanistan War, post-2014. If the Laghman case is any indication, the conflict will be increasingly characterized by risky police raids, delicate legal action and small numbers of highly trained U.S. troops quietly applying pressure at key moments to ensure the rule of law triumphs over chaos.

It’s not so much that Afghanistan has transitioned into a post-conflict state. The issue seems to be whether the form of the conflict can somehow be shaped by the Afghan government (and our) responses to it. The article is less about the stuff that people often focus on when thinking about SpecOps, night raids, parachute jumps, and so on, and more about managerial, curricular, and training reform:

Tom — tall, lean, bald-headed, born in London, but raised in upstate New York — assumed responsibility for his then-20-strong Provincial Response Company in August. His first move: totally revamp the company, everything from its leadership and uniforms to the training syllabus the Afghan Ministry of Interior had provided them.

In reforming the Laghman special police all on their own, Tom and his fellow commandos might have broken a few rules. That’s not unusual. Special Forces are selected for their intelligence and initiative. Their bosses expect to abide by the spirit of the regulations rather than the letter. “I am given the autonomy to attack the problem as I see fit,” Tom says.

A 26-year-old Romanian officer attached to Tom’s team — let’s call him “Abel” — had spent several years teaching at the Romanian military academy before deploying to Afghanistan. One look at the Interior Ministry’s leadership curriculum, and Abel, a slight man with dark hair and a boyish face, knew he had to start from scratch with new lessons. The Interior Ministry stuff “didn’t look professional,” Abel says. The cops’ typical approach to solving problems: wing it, and hope for the best.

If the PRC were going to be able to execute warrants, gather evidence and help guide prosecutions, they needed to be capable of long-range planning. Abel started by charting out basic decision-making processes and writing lesson plans teaching each step.

Looking beyond the curriculum, Abel says he saw other leadership problems…

Check out the full post; it addresses issues ranging from training, to uniforms and status, to curriculum, to what happens when these new patrols actually “hit the streets,” and after. It is well worth the read.

One Response

  1. Response…
    Chris: there is a danger posed for U.S. soldiers — not involved in an international armed conflict? then no “combatant” status and no “combatant immunity” for what would otherwise be lawful acts of war (including killing certain folk).  Happily, the laws of war apply when there is a de factor armed conflict even if the parties or one or two of them do not recognize its existence.
    Moreover, a law enforcement paradigm can be more restrictive in terms of targetings than either a self-defense paradigm or law of war paradigm.  See  Mary Ellen O’Connell will have something to say about this, I am sure.

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