I recently spent 12 months in Kabul as an adviser on policing. After seventeen years of NATO’s mission to bring peace and security, it’s sad to say that the country’s probably in a worse state than ever.
Our terrible failure in Afghanistan, with lives wasted despite billions spent, has produced only one winner: organised crime. A senior Hungarian career detective friend of mine recently told me there has never been so much cheap, pure heroin in Budapest. Another Turkish Police colleague of mine told me a similar thing about Istanbul this week.
Last year, I worked in Afghanistan with a small number of International Police Experts. My US, German, Australian, Hungarian, Turkish colleagues, like me, each had 30 or more years’ experience, and many had years of extra experience in Afghanistan and in other conflict zones.
But just like in our home countries, the many politicians, military leaders, diplomatic staff and NGOs there would not listen to us experts in policing. NATO, just like the Soviet Union before it, has been resoundingly beaten in Afghanistan, and the country will almost certainly continue in chaos. The story is little different to the West’s failures in Iraq and Libya, and, probably before too much longer, Mali and a few other places in Africa.
Let me give you some perspective of life on the ground in Afghanistan. Despite what you might hear in the mainstream media, the Afghan Government controls little of the country. For example, in Helmand – where the UK lost most of their 457 troops on operations and had thousands maimed – apart from what remains of a small US Marine base, the whole province is controlled by the Taliban.
Kandahar, once the domain of the Canadians, is little different. To the east of Kabul, ISIS K (Islamic State-Khorasan Province) controls much of the area and when it is not fighting with the Afghan government forces, it fights with the Taliban. Who do pretty much whatever they like, whenever they like, in most of the country.
Kabul is now an extremely dangerous place and most of the International Embassy staff remain locked up in their heavily guarded compounds. An entire British infantry battalion supported by some Australians stands ready as the Kabul Security Force to deploy in armoured vehicles to any insurgent attack that the Afghan Security Forces cannot deal with. Virtually all movement by NATO forces is now done in heavily armoured vehicles or, as a preferred option, in British Puma helicopters with door gunners and armoured floors. These provide a daily bus service between various military bastions within the Kabul area.
US Apache attack helicopters and F16 fighters are also on standby, ready to come to the rescue if things really get bad.
The rape and murder of Afghan police officers
Our investment of blood and treasure has resulted in a weekly death toll of up to 200 Afghan police murdered by insurgents or organised criminals. Whilst our naïve and politically correct attempts to change the gender balance of the force has resulted in over 3,000 brave educated young Afghan women being sexually assaulted or worse by their police colleagues.
This happened because we ignored the medieval attitudes to women and the tribal nature of the country. The only people who would allow their girls to join the police were the Dari speaking Hazaras, so to meet our gender balance targets we took thousands of them for seven-week courses to Turkey, before dropping them in small numbers in semi-derelict, filthy, vermin-infested police outposts with no facilities for women.
They were left with their new male police colleagues, Pashtuns, Nuristanis, Turkics, Uzbeks, or Tajiks, many semi-illiterate and almost all deeply misogynistic, for whom corruption, violence and abuse of young boys is their daily bread. In some cases, they spoke a different language to the policewomen. Imagine being a young, inexperienced female recruit, dumped unsupported thousands of miles from home, with no way of leaving the police camp without being tortured and murdered by the Taliban. Some were lucky, and got to function as cleaners or cooks. Others were brutally abused.
Only the most idealistic, naïve feminists would insist on forcing through the gender agenda in a society not yet ready for it, but that is what our diplomats and tree huggers did from behind the walls of their embassies in Kabul. It is an example of how out of touch with reality our efforts have been.
Seventeen years of failure
Let’s just pause to remember that NATO has been involved in this country since 2003. It led the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from August that year to December 2014, since when it has remained in situ to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces. NATO’s mission “was to enable the Afghan authorities and build the capacity of the Afghan national security forces to provide effective security, so as to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists.” At its height, there were 130,000 NATO troops there, and America alone spent nearly $800 billion on its military expenditure in Afghanistan, and a further $44 billion on reconstruction.
Seventeen long years and billions of dollars. And what’s been achieved? Have we “enabled effective security”? Have we ensured there would be no “safe haven for terrorists”? No, the only things we’ve enabled are to make the organised criminals more powerful and rich, the Taliban to control large swathes of the country… and ISIS-K to flourish. We have learned nothing – nada, zilch – from our previous failures in Iraq and Libya, and it is galling.
As is the case in any conflict zone, the organised criminals just got richer, buying off politicians, police chiefs, customs officials and growing their massive crops of opium in the ideal conditions of southern Afghanistan. Production of the opium poppy remains the country’s key cash crop. Others made fortunes trafficking people and keeping the UK Border Force gainfully employed in rescuing illegal immigrants from dinghies in the English Channel every day.
No one is equipped, or has the slightest intention, of trying to stop this flow of people and drugs flooding into Europe. The gangs are too powerful and too rich – an FBI colleague in Kabul told me the criminals even launder their money through the British Channel Islands.
Filling the void
Anyone who has spent five minutes in any country’s military (and I’ve spent a deal more than that) will tell you that an insurgency cannot be beaten solely by military means. In fact, we all learn that the “Human Terrain is Vital Ground.” The problem is, just as in Iraq, Libya, the Balkans etc, you cannot win that ground if you do not deal with the organised criminals.
They will very quickly move into the space vacated by Government and the Police in a conflict and, before long, become the very politicians that our diplomats, politicians and military generals on the ground must negotiate with.
Career cops see this from the outset; they know how quickly and cleverly the criminals fill the void. How they use threats, murders, bribery and ruthless personal gangs to enforce their way. They are a cancer that must be stopped if a fractured nation like Afghanistan is to be rebuilt. But we never do it. In an ideal world, police officers should step out of the back of the army’s armoured vehicles the moment their wheels stop rolling and get on with identifying the criminals and managing them.
Too many of us don’t understand that in such places we must invest heavily and quickly in the police; they become the only visible manifestation of government and that if they are corrupt, or engaged in crime themselves, or sometimes are rapists, there is not the slightest chance of the people supporting the government they represent. Let alone saying who or where the insurgents are, especially if the Taliban offer some semblance of order, no matter how medieval or brutal.
The Chilcot inquiry on the Iraq war contained some firm pointers on how to go about dealing with this problem. Ten senior highly paid public officials all gave testimony on how crucial the establishment of order was to rebuild a nation. Moreover, they explained why the people must be treated with respect and their trust earned. Many examples were given of the importance of having an effective police and criminal justice system. The evidence was buried in the appendices and never really saw the light of day in the media.
As one of those witnesses, the reason for that is as obvious now as it was for me and my Hungarian and Turkish colleagues in Kabul. We are career police officers, and the oh-so-clever people running the show, look disdainfully down on us – after all, what does PC Plod know about anything?
The British are the NATO lead nation now for advising the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and its most senior police officers. The fact that there is not a single policing expert from the UK advising at that level now and it is all left to military officers, says it all.
Meanwhile, the organised criminals grow richer while we, to our detriment, continue to face ever increasing numbers of illegal immigrants, returning foreign fighters and heroin. As we still squander our billions trying to hold a 1.86-square-mile fortified Green Zone in Kabul, where our diplomats and generals shelter behind four-metre concrete blast walls as both the Taliban and Islamic State fire in their rockets and send in their suicide bombers.
By Kevin Hurley