3rd Dec 2020

EU police mission in Afghanistan still understaffed

  • Eupol still needs over 100 staff from member states (Photo: Council of European Union)

On the eve of an international conference on Afghanistan, the commanders of the EU's police mission in the country have asked MEPs to press their governments to send more police trainers.

"I ask for your help in convincing national members of parliaments and governments to staff our mission in full, it is crucial for our credibility," Kees Klompenhouwer, the EU's Brussels-based civilian operations commander told MEPs on Monday (25 January).

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Three years into its mandate, the Eupol mission to Afghanistan is still below the 400 pledged staff. In the coming weeks, its ranks will be boosted to 310, but Mr Klompenhouwer said that is "still not satisfactory."

"The 400 mark is a political symbol, but it's also very important to have the mission fully deployed in the field," he stressed.

His remarks were echoed by Kai Vittrup, the head of Eupol in Kabul, who also emphasised the need for member states to lift restrictions on where their staff can be deployed.

Currently, only police trainers and experts from Denmark, Romania and Estonia are fully flexible. The rest, coming from other 18 EU countries, plus Canada, Norway, New Zealand and Croatia, must stay either in the Afghan capital or in a specific military base in the country.

"I want this mission to be throughout Afghanistan, not just in Kabul, but I need your help for that. Outside Kabul, we need accommodation, staffing and especially flexibility from member states," Mr Vittrup said.

The Dane, who used to be a commander of the Copenhagen police, said his mission was already showing good results in training city police in Kabul, so that they are able to identify potential suicide bombers at the checkpoints and arrest or kill them before they detonate their bombs. Two such would-be attackers were identified and stopped during the presidential elections on 20 August, Mr Vittrup said.

Training Afghan criminal police to gather proper evidence from crime scenes is another area of expertise. The Danish commander spoke about neglect and mistrust between the four branches of the Afghan police, who gather information separately and only share it when they are forced to.

On anti-corruption, Eupol is the leading non-military unit tasked to come up with a longer-term strategy. A hotline has been set up and the European officials are now recruiting more local staff to answer the calls.

But all these initiatives are still nascent and in the shadow of the grand-scale military operation led by Nato.

However, unlike the troops deployed to the country, Eupol was not looking at an exit strategy, Mr Klompenhouwer said. "We are here to stay at least another 5-10 years, in order to succeed," he said, noting that the country has been at war for over 30 years.

"What we do is train civilian police so that there is something in place when the war is over," he added.

Part of the new strategy for Afghanistan announced by US President Barack Obama is an increase in non-military aid such as police training. An international conference dedicated to these efforts is taking place on Wednesday and Thursday in London.

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