Afghan police training bedeviled by delays

Pentagon to re-bid and keep spending billions

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A troubled multi-billion contract that has failed to create a reliable national police force in Afghanistan — key to the drawdown of U.S. troops — will be extended again.

During a Senate homeland security subcommittee hearing Thursday, a Pentagon official laid out plans for a new “full and open competition” for police training that likely could take until the end of the year. The new bidding could hamper an already delayed training process.

The decision also almost certainly means the government will pay millions of dollars more to the current police trainer, DynCorp International. Federal auditors have criticized poor government oversight of the DynCorp contract for years — although DynCorp’s training was not called into question.

The decision left Democrats and Republicans, gathered at a subcommittee on contracting oversight hearing, demanding better coordination and accountability.

“I don’t think DynCorp has always had the leadership or the plan in place to convey to the people who work for them what they should be doing and how,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) told the Huffington Post Investigative Fund after the hearing. “And there was a disconnect between the military, the State Department and the actual work product of DynCorp.”

DynCorp has consistently defended its work in Afghanistan.

In a March letter to employees, Dyncorp chief executive Bill Ballhaus said that his company’s “good work” was “praised by senior government officials and, by every account, we have met the objectives set out for us.” Ballhaus continued: “We can all hold our heads high.”

DynCorp’s contract, which is focused on creating a conventional police force, was to expire in January. The State and Defense departments late last year planned to find another contractor to train the police as a counterinsurgency force fit to fight the Taliban.

That plan fell apart in March when government auditors found fault with an attempt by the Defense Department to shortcut the contract process. Since then, Defense officials in Kabul and Washington have been scrambling — with some meeting privately to appeal to lawmakers — to find a way to avoid the time-consuming task of an entirely new bid.

DynCorp’s contract has since been extended until August. DynCorp officials have said they are adjusting their training but the current contract only requires DynCorp to train the police for community law enforcement.

The announcement of the open competition emerged during a hearing that put a harsh spotlight on the failing of Afghan police. 

A build-up of Afghan police is pivotal to the Obama’s administration plan to draw down troops in Afghanistan. Despite significant cost — about $6 billion in training, equipment and construction costs over this decade — the police are roundly seen as an unreliable and weak security force.  Recruits are largely illiterate. Attrition remains high. Police, more than other security forces in Afghanistan, have come under deadly attack by the Taliban.

Lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing underscored their skepticism about the current program — and voiced frustration over how it affected U.S. troops who try to stabilize the country.

The senators repeatedly cited the human and financial costs involved. The price tag for police training is expected to spiral; defense experts Thursday estimated that it will cost $6 billion a year for the next few years. That’s almost half of Afghanistan’s current gross domestic product of $13 billion. 

“I need to know what is the plan,” said McCaskill about the prospects for the contract bid. When David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of Defense, said “no full plan” was yet in place and he expected to know more in about two weeks.  McCaskill, the subcommittee chairman, shot back:  “That’s unacceptable.”

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) cited the beleaguered police as a danger to both Afghans and Americans. “Delays are putting our troops at risk,” he said. “I’m flabbergasted at the slow pace of the government.” Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, had recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan and called police training “ a very serious problem.”

“And now we’re extending a contract that hasn’t worked,” he said.