Last week’s attack in Kabul underscored two points. First, insurgents groups have the intent to undermine international efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan. Second, the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police have the means to minimize insurgent ambition.

As Brookings Institute senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon wrote, “The insurgents with their weapons…were not able to get truly close to their targets…[and] the Afghan forces stood and fought for their country.”  

Unfortunately, it takes events like these highlight just how far the Afghan National Police has come since fall 2009 when the international community unified training efforts under NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. Over the past two years, the number of officers increased by 69 percent and attrition within the Afghan National Civil Order Police fell by 75 percent. Overall, attrition in the police is within acceptable limits and has not compromised growth or professionalism. Every recruit is now equipped with quality equipment and are getting the resources they need; they now have over 2,300 up-armored HMMWVs with 2,200 more coming over the next several months. Police now earn a living wage and are being trained before they are issued a badge and a weapon. Finally, gender integration is accelerating with the addition of 1,000 more women per year during the next five years. The police have made tremendous progress and the Afghan people recognize this through increased confidence in the force and volunteering to serve in it.

On any given day, over 8,300 police are in training at 36 training centers in 19 provinces throughout Afghanistan. The training is now internationally recognized and standardized bringing the best practices from the European Union Police, the German Police Project Team, and the 37 countries of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A). In addition to training today’s Afghan police force, NTM-A is also training Afghan trainers to ensure Afghanistan has an indigenous, self-sustaining, and enduring force. By December 2012, Afghans will be in the lead for training their police force.  

A saying often heard in Afghanistan “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go with others.” There is no greater truism than at NTM-A where partnerships have been critical and will continue to be key in creating an enduring and self sustaining Afghan National Police. In 2009, there was just one civilian police officer assigned to NTM-A; today, there are 525 civilian police working shoulder-to-shoulder with our Afghan counterparts. The results are clear and the Afghan National Police Force continues to professionalize and get better every day. This was evident in their response during last week’s attack. This progress has been enabled by demanding training. 

Training, educating, and developing leaders has been the number one priority of international efforts in Afghanistan.  Leaders are the key to an enduring Afghan National Police. With good leaders, you can compensate for almost any shortcoming. There is now a continuum of leader training and education for senior officers serving as zone and provincial commanders to young cadets who are studying at the three-year National Police Academy. Through partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Interior, over 20,000 new leaders have been trained and educated over the last two years.  

In addition to developing leaders, we are professionalizing the entire police force. Following Afghan Ministry of Education guidelines, we now employ over 3,000 Afghan teachers who for just $33 per recruit are teaching the lost generation to read, write, and count. Today, there are over 30,000 police recruits in literacy training and over 70,000 police have received some form of literacy training. By reducing illiteracy, Afghan police have the means to read and understand the law they are expected to enforce, identify license plates of suspected vehicle-borne explosive devices, verify identification cards at checkpoints to locate insurgents, and write reports the citizens of their country provide them. 

Two years ago, there were real reasons to be skeptical about the Afghan National Police. Today, there are real reasons to be proud and hopeful. Unfortunately, the ANP is constantly tested and is on the front line in the fight against insurgent and terrorist groups. We saw in Kabul recently that the ANP can be effective. The ANP responded, contained the situation, protected the Afghan populace and deliberately reduced the threat with minimal damage to personal property or risk to Afghan civilians.  

This was adapted from a presentation given to the International Police Coordination Board (IPCB) in Kabul. 

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.