Shooting Blanks

A DynCorp instructor teaches Afghan police how to do their jobs--which would be easier if they had things like guns and bullets, but, ya know, they're working on that.

On the front page of The New York Times this morning is a story about how the United States is losing Afghanistan--you know, the other country we invaded and occupied, only with Tim Robbins and Al Franken's blessings. Violence is way up, the Taliban's making a comeback (sort of like Bob Seger) and the poppy trade's as high as it's ever been. "Statistically it is now nearly as dangerous to serve as an American soldier in Afghanistan as it is in Iraq," says this story, which also refers to the country that actually wanted us there as "one of the most troubled fronts in the fight against terrorism."

Part of the trouble stems from the lack of police training--which is being done, or not, by Irving-based DynCorp International, the multi-billion-dollar government contractor that does everything from airplane maintenance to disaster relief to security training. DynCorp was brought to Afghanistan by the State Department about three years ago to "recruit, train and deploy dozens of American police advisers in Afghanistan and build seven regional training centers. But the times says the centers were operating training courses that were way too short--a couple of weeks long, not the three-plus months European officials claimed they needed to be in order to be effective. One police officer from Kandahar says DynCorp had given him a two-week course and taught him nothing new.

Which isn't to say it's all DynCorp's fault. There's rampant corruption amongst "police departments" in the various provinces, and the Afghan officers are poorly equipped. Reports The Times:

"The United States, meanwhile, expanded DynCorp's police training contract, increasing basic courses from two to eight weeks, and sent two DynCorp contractors to important provinces to serve as advisers. Two retired American sheriff's deputies were sent to Lashkar Gah, to cover all of Helmand. Jesse Valdez, 55, from Santa Cruz, Calif., had trained police officers in Bosnia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Steve Rubcic, 58, from Wyoming, had never been east of Wisconsin.

When they arrived in October, security was so bad they could not visit any of the province's 13 districts. In interviews, both said the Afghan police were eager for help and that they were making progress removing corrupt officials. Six weeks after they arrived, a small car bomb detonated outside the governor's office several minutes before they arrived for a meeting.

In March, two more DynCorp advisers joined them in Lashkar Gah. A month later, a suicide car bomb attack flipped their armored vehicle, but they survived. Both refused to leave.

In June, American officials dispatched an eight-man DynCorp 'saturation' training team to Lashkar Gah. Brent Thompson, a 33-year-old former police officer from Dallas who heads the team, said American officials calculated that six Afghan policemen were dying for every soldier in the National Army who was killed.

Half of the saturation team's two-week training course is devoted to teaching Afghan police military skills, like how to launch or survive an ambush. Mr. Thompson, who trained the police in Iraq for DynCorp, said the Afghan police were more poorly equipped than their Iraqi counterparts. In one recent Afghan class, he said, 40 police officers shared 15 rifles.

As of early July, the training segment that involved police firing their rifles was on hold. Security problems had delayed the delivery of ammunition to Lashkar Gah, according to Mr. Thompson.

During the training, Afghan officers pull the triggers on their rifles and pretend to fire."

By those standards, I know at least one 3-year-old boy who would make an excellent Afghan police officer. Oh, and, yes, this is the same DynCorp involved in that sex-slave scandal four years ago. In case you forgot. Just sayin'. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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