Afghan police are widely considered corrupt and unable to shoot straight; they die at twice the rate of Afghan soldiers and NATO troops. After $7 billion spent on training and salaries in the last eight years, several U.S. government investigations are asking why?
Some answers are obvious: Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries of the world, with extremely low literacy and a serious drug problem: One in five police recruits tests positive for drugs, and fewer than one in 10 can read and write. Unofficial estimates suggest that the Taliban pays twice as much as the government, luring away many candidates from law enforcement careers.
But another rather surprising answer was offered in a little-noticed report published earlier this month after a high-level investigation by two major U.S. government agencies. The report -- "DOD Obligations and Expenditures of Funds Provided to the Department of State for the Training and Mentoring of the Afghan National Police" -- says that the U.S. State Department has completely failed to do any serious oversight of private contractors they paid $1.6 billion to provide police training at dozens of sites around Afghanistan.
DynCorp's International Police Training Program, run out of Fort Worth, Texas, has won the bulk of the contracts that have been overseen by the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The company, which has annual revenues of $3.1 billion, has followed a series of wars to run lucrative police training contracts from Bosnia in the 1990s to Iraq in 2003.
DynCorp's work with Kabul began in 2003, almost two years after the fall of the Taliban. It was expanded in 2004 when the State Department issued it a contract to build seven regional training centers, and provide 30 police advisers across Afghanistan. This initial contract was replaced by a series of related contracts beginning on August 15, 2005, under which DynCorp today employs 782 retired U.S. police officers and an additional 1,500 support staff. The contracts expired January 31, 2010, but have temporarily been extended through March.
The cost of hiring contractors to train police is high: Each expatriate police officer makes six figure U.S. salaries -- at least 50 times more than an Afghan police officer. Many experts, including the authors of this new report, have questioned the utility of sending police officers-many from small town America--to teach handcuffing and traffic rules to recruits caught in a war zone.
"The DOS [State Department] Civilian Police Program contract does not meet DOD [Pentagon]'s needs in developing the ANP [Afghan National Police] to provide security in countering the growing insurgency in Afghanistan," says the report signed by Pentagon Deputy Inspector General Mary L. Ugone and State Department Assistant Inspector General for the Middle East Richard "Nick" Arntson. The report concludes that the State department-led training "hampers the ability of DOD to fulfill its role in the emerging national strategy."
That the government awarded billions to DynCorp when it was not qualified to teach Afghans how to fight a counter-insurgency is only part of the problem. What the investigators want to know is why the State Department failed so miserably at keeping track of the company.
The inspector generals have a long list of complaints:
- State Department officials take as long as six months to implement training requirement changes requested by the Pentagon.
-The State Department failed to draw up any means of assessing DynCorp's work. "The current task orders do not provide any specific information regarding what type of training is required or any measurement of acceptability. ...Additionally, the current contract does not include any measurement of contractor performance."
- Oversight of invoices and receipts submitted by the contractor was virtually non-existent.
- The description of the State department's seven-member oversight team as "in country" is "misleading." Only three of the seven "in-country" State Department officials officially in charge of overseeing DynCorp contract were based in Afghanistan. (Three were U.S-based and the seventh worked on an entirely different contract.) Indeed some $675 million had been approved for spending as of early 2008, without any evidence of an in-country supervisor actually present in Afghanistan. The report questioned how "performing product and service inspection, accepting work on behalf of the Government, and maintaining inventory lists of Government-furnished property" could be even possible without "a physical presence at the place of performance."
- Much of the equipment provided by the U.S. for training had gone missing. During site visits to three police training centers in Bamiyan, Herat, and Kandahar, the inspectors randomly selected 123 items from an inventory list of vehicles, weapons and electronics, but could only locate 34. In Kandahar, nine "sensitive items" -- pistols, rifles, and scopes -- could not be located. A subsequent check at DynCorp's headquarters in Kabul, showed that the weapons were signed out by company personnel. Of 89 non-sensitive items, only two could be located. The Kandahar site coordinator explained that the list was inaccurate and out-of-date.
- Money, too, was unaccounted for or misappropriated: Inspectors quoted a preliminary audit that identified $322 million in invoices for the State department's global police training program that were approved "even though they were not allowable, allocable, or reasonable." Roughly 50 percent of the approved invoices that the inspectors reviewed had errors. The inspectors general recommended that the State Department should return a "minimum" of $80 million from the Afghanistan budget to the Pentagon.
Curiously the company has also recently taken aim at its paymasters, stating that the lack of oversight in the field impeded the contractor. At a December hearing of the Congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting, Donald Ryder, program manager for the DynCorp's Afghanistan police program, told commissioners: "It is impractical for the contracting officer to oversee, monitor, and direct a contract from a location in the US, many time zones away from the work, without a visceral understanding of combat conditions."
Douglas Ebner, a company spokesman, emailed CorpWatch to say that DynCorp "welcome[d] the emphasis on oversight and accountability," and that its inventory system had been approved by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). "Sensitive items are inventoried and documented on a monthly basis. The audit report notes that sensitive items in fact were accounted for as being properly signed out by contractor personnel," wrote Ebner.
The State department acknowledges many of the problems with oversight. "We agree with report recommendations to station more contracting officer representatives in country for oversight and are moving forward," said Susan R. Pittman, a State Department spokesperson. The State Department, she added, was developing "standard operating procedures [specifically] identifying duties and responsibilities" for the oversight officials.
But Pittman took issue with the inspector general conclusion that there was an $80 million over-charge, noting that the State Department was conducting an audit to determine "how much we can return."
Even if it turns out that the U.S. does not have to pay the overcharge, "in the long run," Nick Arntson told CorpWatch. "they should still have the documents to show where the $80 million went."
Yet the report on Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs's (INL) failures in Afghanistan is not unprecedented. In January, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), came out with an equally critical report about how the agency had failed to properly oversee a $2.5 billion contract with DynCorp to conduct police training in Iraq beginning in 2004.
SIGIR says it has "no confidence in the accuracy of payments of more than $1bn to DynCorp" during the early stages of the contract. "Poor contract management which plagued the early years of the contract" have largely continued because the bureau's initiatives to improve performance have "fallen short."
Just as in Afghanistan, the SIGIR report documented that INL paid DynCorp for questionable work. In Iraq, a DynCorp security team got $4.54 million per year to protect six prison instructors even though the instructors already had another security team that cost just $546,000 per year. INL also paid seven times more than the U.S. embassy did to lease facilities for DynCorp.
INL chief David Johnson called the SIGIR's key findings "unfounded."
While the inspectors general have criticized the lack of State Department oversight, they have not found fault with DynCorp. "Based on what the contract stated, we saw no problem with the contractor," report co-author Arntson told CorpWatch.
Yet, if the measures used to track the capabilities of the Afghan police are any guide, the contract has not been a resounding success.
All told, as of December 31, 2009:
- the Afghan National Police had on its rolls 94,958 personnel organized into 365 police districts, but only about one quarter have actually completed formal training, according to Pentagon records.
- Just 17 percent of the 64 police districts reviewed by the inspectors general had sufficient equipment and were capable of conducting law enforcement operations by themselves.
-Half of the police districts were classified as "present in geographic location" with up to a level of 69 percent of equipment and personnel and "partially capable of conducting law enforcement with coalition support."
And recent statistics appear to show that the success rate is sliding backward, despite a March 2009 promise by the Obama administration to devote more resources to standing up the Afghan security forces. This poor record bodes ill for Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who has been asking for permission to expand the police force to 160,000.
Figures tucked away in a January 2010 Special Inspector General for Afgahnistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, for example, displayed some alarming trends.
-A review that covered 97 police districts, assessed just 12 percent as capable of independent operations.
-Between the third and fourth quarter of 2009, the number of police districts that were considered incapable of conducting law enforcement operations, rose from 13 to 21 percent.
-Making matters worse, a quarter of the trainees quit every year, according to official statistics. Thus, if recruitment and training were to stop tomorrow, Afghanistan would have virtually no police force left in five years.
Battle of the agencies
Also unstated in the report is a fierce clash between the State Department
- a civilian agency that deals with the complexities of foreign relations and long-term economic development, and a Pentagon that sees enemy targets everywhere and believes in short-term counter-insurgency style change.
While this philosophical conflict between U.S. government agencies is long-standing, it spilled into the open when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority, staffed partially by State Department officials, commissioned dozens of huge, corruption-riddled projects in 2003 and 2004 that were abject failures, including a very similar police training program run by DynCorp. Eventually, under orders from Gen. David Petraueus the Pentagon took charge of police training as well as all reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Today, the same is about to happen with the Afghanistan police training project. The State Department and DynCorp have been given an extra two months to wrap up work, at which point full control will revert to the newly-created NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan run by Lieut. Gen. William Caldwell IV, a West Point classmate of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, under orders from Petraeus.
"This was based on a mutual recognition by the two departments that the lack of a single, unified chain of command for police training had resulted in confusion and unnecessary delays in modifying and implementing the program," Kenneth P. Moorefield, assistant inspector general for Special Plans & Operations for the Global War on Terror and Southwest Asia at the Pentagon told the December meeting of the Commission on Wartime Contracting.
DynCorp is not being considered for a new billion dollar training contract by the Pentagon office in charge -- the Counter Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office (CNTPO) in Dahlgren, Virginia. Instead CNTPO plans to select from five pre-approved vendors: Xe (formerly Blackwater), Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and ARINC Engineering Services.
DynCorp is not taking this exclusion lying down. The company has filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office, alleging that the approach is "procedurally and legally flawed." A decision is expected by March 24, 2010.
Ryder continues to insists that DynCorp is the most qualified to do police training. "[N]either our military nor European National police were formed or trained to teach basic law enforcement skills," he told the Commission on Wartime Contracting. "At DynCorp International we do not build satellites. We do not design aircraft. We do training and mentoring. That is our core competency -- and this competency is represented in the DNA of our 30,000 employees worldwide."
Others disagee. "DynCorp and INL squandered six years of training by focusing on quantity and neglecting quality, especially the quality of leaders, who are much harder to produce than rank-and-file policemen," wrote Mark Moyar, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Marine Corps University in The Daily Beast, after a visit to Afghanistan last month. "DynCorp and INL were supposed to have turned over all police training to the NATO training mission by now, but the transition has been suspended by an appeal from DynCorp. The suspension threatens to set the training effort back by months, if not years."
* This article was produced in partnership with Inter Press Service News Agency. Pratap Chatterjee may be reached at "email@example.com"