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In Afghanistan war, marines' struggle to recruit locals could delay US exit

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The last group had its problems.

Drug testing doesn't go well

Months of training and trust-building went down the tubes when the marines drug-tested their Afghan police partners. Eleven of the 19 police tested positive for opium, including a promising leader named Sgt. Anwar.

After the test, given three weeks ago, Anwar riled up his men against the marines, who all live inside an ancient castle here. The police threw rocks; the marines seized their guns. In the end, the marines sent the whole batch up to the provincial police headquarters and started over with fresh recruits.

Because of their recent arrival, the marines in Helmand have only 300 police, 1,300 Afghan National Army troops, and 500 border police, leaving them with the lowest ratio of Afghan to coalition forces in the country.

“The ratio we’d like to be at is 1-to-1,” says Lt. Col. Mark Winn, who heads up the development of Afghan security forces for the marines in Helmand. “I don’t think we will be at a 1-to-1 ratio in the next couple of years.”

More troops help, he says. “With the introduction of more [international] troops, we are able to expand the security that lends itself to development of Afghan security forces.”

Nationwide, the Afghan military and police total about 170,000. But Gen. Stanley McChrystal supports an expansion to 400,000. Only 43 of the 123 military units can operate independently, and just 24 of the 559 police units can do so, according to SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

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