A Taliban member who'd infiltrated the Afghan police force killed five British soldiers in Helmand Province Tuesday afternoon. A similar incident occurred last month when a policeman on patrol with U.S. troops opened fire on American soldiers, killing two. How does the United States make sure the Afghan policemen aren't really terrorists?
We trust the Afghan government. The U.S. military doesn't handle recruiting for the Afghan National Police. That's up to the country's Ministry of the Interior. (The United States just trains officers who have already come up through local police forces.) Would-be policemen must submit their name, age, and home address, plus recommendations from two current police officers. If they don't know any officers, other government officials are acceptable. Recruits have to take a literacy test, and students who fail must take a five-week course. (Despite these measures, the police force is still 90 percent illiterate.) They must also vow that they don't have ties to other armed militia, and they can't have a criminal record. The interior ministry then compares the applicant's statements with its own records. If everything matches, they're good to go.
A joint study by the Defense and State departments in 2006 called the police vetting procedure "ineffective," since many police forces pick new recruits without ever consulting the interior ministry. Another systemic shortcoming is that the country doesn't have a good criminal records system—if someone has a criminal past, there's no way to find out. Furthermore, tribal loyalties often trump allegiance to the new Afghan government, so officers asked to vouch for new recruits might lie to protect their friends. It doesn't help that vetting is often rushed. The police force has grown from 50,000 to about 80,000 since 2002, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal has proposed boosting the number to 160,000. That rate of recruitment does not allow for a leisurely vetting process.
The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior has similar standards for the Iraqi police force. Recruits have their fingerprints taken and undergo a retinal scan. They also have to fill out a questionnaire, pass a literacy and physical-fitness test, and pass a vetting interview. Criminal background checks are also routine, but the process is complicated since so many people were falsely accused and imprisoned under Saddam Hussein.
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Explainer thanks Robert Perito of the United States Institute of Peace and Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group.