By Ahmad Kawosh in Mazar-e-Sharif (ARR No. 348, 16-Dec-09)
An Afghan National Army, ANA, commander says efforts to combat the growing insurgency in the previously stable north are being frustrated by police failings
General Abdul Rahman Rahmani, commander of the 209 Shahin Army Corps, based in Mazar-e-Sharif, says over the past year the ANA has launched operations in four northern provinces to drive out Taleben and other militant groups, but the police have been unable to hold territory once the army has moved on, allowing the insurgents to regroup.
"Kunduz, Baghlan, Faryab and Balkh provinces have been cleared of [insurgent] groups several times," Rahmani said. "But the achievements have not been protected. After a short time, the insurgents are able to retake the territory. So the army conducts another operation. This leads to rising casualties and low morale. Army soldiers leave; they stop fighting."
Mohammad Ali Rezayi, deputy commander of the 303 Pamir Zone Corps, which polices the north and northeast of the country, insisted that his officers take their responsibilities seriously, but lacked manpower to control areas after military operations.
"It is very difficult to control the vast areas of the north and the northeast without more police,"
he said, adding that the 303 Pamir Zone Corps had asked central government to increase the number of officers.
"We have only 60 policemen in Baghlan-e-Markazi district, which has more than 3,000 inhabitants," he said. "Other districts also face shortages. With the current force level, we cannot maintain permanent control."
Rahmani, though, questions not only the competence of the police, but also claims that they are cooperating with the insurgents, making deals and even fighting with the Taleban against the ANA.
In addition, Rahmani said police collect local tithes, known as ushr, from the population jointly with the insurgents.
"Police in Baghlan and Kunduz surrendered their weapons to the Taleban. The police and the [insurgents] are from the same area, they collude with each other. They could not do this in other provinces," he said.
"I am only talking about what I have seen with my own eyes. The police, along with the Taleban, were collecting tithe from people in Faryab province. When the army arrived, the police started fighting against the army jointly with the Taleban."
Rahmani suggested that policemen be deployed outside their home provinces, in order to prevent them making deals with insurgents.
"Police from Balkh should be sent to Baghlan, and those from Baghlan should go to Faryab or some other province. This would make it more difficult for them to establish ties with [insurgents]," he said.
Rezayi, meanwhile, defends his force, saying Rahmani's allegations are baseless and irresponsible.
"The police are committed to national security," he said. "We have taken more casualties than any other security organisation. This shows that the police do not deal with [insurgents]."
And Sayed Asghar Asghari, operations manager for the 303 Pamir Zone Corps, dismissed Rahmani's police deployment proposal. "Police serve where they are recruited," he said. "They would never agree to go to other provinces."
Rahmani also accused some provincial governors of incompetence, saying their failure to respond to the needs of the people had made it possible for the Taleban to gain a foothold in the north.
Residents of Baghlan say insurgents exploit local disaffection with the authorities caused by pledges not being delivered.
"Promises are made, but they are not fulfilled," said Mohammad Sarwar, a resident of Dand district in Baghlan. "This makes the [insurgents] powerful, because the people do not trust the government. The Taleban take advantage of this, telling the people to support them, instead of the government."
Baghlan governor Mohammad Akbar Barakzai, however, defends his record.
"I promised the residents of Dand district that I would build them a road as soon as possible," he said. "I have sent the proposal to the ministry of public works, which has put out a tender for construction companies. The winner will begin work very soon."
Residents, meanwhile, claim that delays in the project have prompted the Taleban to prepare a new anti-government offensive, despite appeals from local elders.
"At the moment, hundreds of Taleban from Kunduz and other northern and northeastern provinces have gathered in our district," local resident Mohammad Karim said. "They say that Barakzai has deceived all the local elders; therefore, the local people should not try and stop the Taleban from mounting an operation."
Ahmad Kawosh is an IWPR-trained reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.