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22nd Jan 2021

Auditors praise EU work on Afghan police

  • EU staff train Afghan police on crime scene investigation

The EU police mission in Afghanistan made a “significant contribution” to law and order, inviting comparison with other EU missions in Kosovo and Libya.

The €346 million of EU taxpayers’ money which paid for Eupol Afghanistan over the past seven years was “well spent”, Gustaf Wessberg, a former Swedish official, who now works for the European Court Auditors, told EUobserver on Wednesday (8 July).

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  • EUbam Libya trains coastguard, shortly before the mission fled Tripoli (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

“Given the conditions, which are extremely difficult, I must say so”, he said.

“Things could have been done better”, he noted, referring to glitches in the start-up phase.

“We’re also concerned about the sustainability of this effort, which now lies more or less entirely in the hands of the Afghan authorities, and I’m not sure this has been adequately taken into consideration”, he added, as Eupol prepares to wind down by the end of next year.

Wessberg visited Kabul last September as part of the EU court’s audit.

He noted that petty crime, like having your wallet stolen, is the least of people’s worries in a city which still faces Taliban attacks.

He also noted, that as an EU visitor, he had four bodyguards whenever he went out of the EU compound.

But he said: “What I saw, and this is a personal reflection, is that local police acted in an adeqaute way in their normal work, controlling traffic, patrolling the streets. In this sense, Kabul is just like any other big city in a developing country”.

The court’s report, published Wednesday, says Eupol helped Afghan police “gain public trust by supporting the implementation of basic principles of civilian policing”.

It delivered some 1,400 training courses to 31,000 trainees.

It set up a Police Staff College.

It published tens of thousands of booklets in Dari‑Pashto and English‑Dari, and produced videos, for instance, on “children’s rights and policing”.

It also worked with the interior ministry to create a human resources database and to cultivate “intelligence-led” policing - Western-type investigative methods.

In one “great achievement”, the police, in 2014, showed it’s capable of carrying out “large‑scale operations in a professional manner” by creating a “secure environment” for presidential elections.

Obstacles

There were glitches.

EU countries were shy to pledge manpower. Eupol was bedeviled by hundreds of bureaucratic “milestones” issued by Brussels, and tender procedures for projects took ages.

The EU mission also faced needless “competition” from other structures, such as Eurogendfor, a European military police body based in Italy, or NTM‑A, a Nato police-training project.

But the internal obstacles were nothing compared to local problems.

When Eupol arrived, in 2007, 80 percent of Afghan police were illiterate and corruption was “pervasive”.

Taliban attacks claimed hundreds of lives - in 2012 alone it killed 57 Afghan prosecutors.

It also targeted EU staff.

The mission spent 30 percent of its budget on security: hundreds of armoured cars and round-the-clock protection by Hart, a small, British private security firm.

But in 2014, a restaurant bomb killed two Eupol employees. In January this year, a car bomb, designed to hit a Eupol vehicle, killed two Afghan civilians.

Sustainability

Amid Wessberg’s concern on “sustainability”, the EU survey noted Eupol’s job remains half-done.

Corruption is still a “significant problem”. So is gender balance - just two percent of police are women.

But the biggest problems lie in the interior ministry.

Afghan authorities make civilian police spend most of its time on counter-insurgency operations.

There’s “political influence” on judicial bodies, making it “difficult to protect and to enforce the rights of defendants and suspects”.

There’s also a lack of “professional civil servants” and prosecutors don’t co-operate with police.

Meanwhile, the relative success of Eupol Afghanistan invites comparison with other EU missions.

Comparisons

The EU’s biggest ever rule-of-law mission, Eulex, in Kosovo, dwarfs Eupol in terms of staff and budget and operates in a much smaller and safer theatre.

It has also done good work in training rank-and-file police.

But it’s been plagued by internal corruption scandals. A recent EU audit, by an independnet French jurist, also described its internal governance as “dysfunctional” and said it did nothing to “lay the foundations of a system capable of fighting corruption”.

Eubam Libya, a border-control mission launched in 2013, was mothballed before it could do anything due to security problems in Tripoli.

Wessberg declined to comment on Eulex or Eubam, saying it’s hard to compare mandates and local conditions.

But an EUobserver contact, with intimate knowledge of the Libya operation, was scathing.

The source said Eubam had to be evacuated because the EU opted to take sides with rival Libyan authorities in Tobruk instead of authorities in Tripoli, which control the primary migrant embarkation points.

The same political decision meant EU states had to close embassies and consulates in the Libyan capital.

“This created a lack of [EU] interlocutors for local politicians [in Tripoli], which is the origin of the migrant phenomenon”, the source said.

“Closing the consulates also helped create the immigration wave, because no one has a place to even apply for a Schengen visa”, the contact added, referring to the EU’s travel zone.

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