Germany’s Failed Police Mission in Afghanistan

After the American military surge eradicated the Taliban leadership in 2002, German police officers have been training Afghan colleagues in Kabul. The quality of the mission conducted, however, has been atrocious, according to a report.

More than 80,000 Afghan police forces have been trained over the years, in an effort that has, so far, cost approximately half a billion euros. However, it is an investment that appears to make a mockery of any ROI prediction model.

This is according to internal US documents that have been published by the Washington Post. Germany, on the other hand, has never conducted a systematic and independent evaluation of the operation.

The documents published by the Post are mainly focusing on alleged mistakes by the US in Afghanistan. However, Germany’s contribution or lack thereof is also part of the piece, as the internal documents show the US’ frustration with the German ally. Germany was “too slow” was doing “too little” and was setting the “wrong priorities.”

In fact, according to the documents, the German mission was failure ab initio. Already in August 2003, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote in a memo regarding German efforts that these were insufficient and that Berlin needed to be put “under pressure” in order for the Germans to conduct a “better, faster job.”

The documents in question come from the “Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan” (Sigar). The US agency has interviewed more than 600 policymakers in Afghanistan: military, diplomats, aid workers. The Washington Post enforced in court that most of the interviews were released. In addition, the newspaper obtained the release of government documents.

These show that Berlin was tasked to set up a police academy in Kabul to train several hundred police officers to German standards over the years. Robert Finn, ex-ambassador to Kabul, sneered in a Sigar interview that it was “great,” but unfortunately, Afghanistan would not have needed a few hundred, but 10,000 officers – “yesterday.”

Richard Boucher, a former high-ranking diplomat in the US State Department, also criticized the German ally for Sigar employees. He informed police officers in the hope that they would affect the behavior of the lower ranks. An illusion as it turned out. When Boucher flew to Afghanistan in 2006, he found “virtually no trained Afghan police officer.”

The Americans interviewed in no way shift the blame for their failure. Douglas Lute, a principal Afghanistan advisor to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, openly admits: “We lacked a basic understanding of Afghanistan – we did not know what we were doing.”

The challenge was “vastly underestimated,” Germany’s Green politician Nachtwei says. A high-ranking delegation from ministries, the police, and the Federal Intelligence Service has already described the training needs of the Afghan police as “almost unlimited” after a trip to Kabul in 2002. According to Nachtwei, the German efforts were “grossly undersized.” Nachtwei was a member of the Bundestag from 1994 to 2009 and traveled to Afghanistan almost every year.

The documents moreover show that seven out of ten Afghan police officers were illiterate and unable to read legal texts or investigate. Attempts to curb corruption have been mainly unsuccessful. In retrospect, practitioners who have been deployed to Afghanistan several times, even believe that Germany “has taken on an unsolvable task under the rule of law.” However, Berlin seemed impervious and focussed solely on the symbolic gesture, in a mission that has turned “German efficiency” ad absurdum, it appears.