BBC documentary reveals harrowing corruption among Afghan officers
Throws doubt on police’s ability to secure nation after Coalition withdrawal
Mother of soldier killed in Sangin asks: ‘Was it worth it?’
PUBLISHED: 17:39, 25 February 2013 |
Police in an area of Afghanistan where 109 British troops died and hundreds were wounded trying to secure peace are riddled with corruption, child abuse, drug taking, kidnap and murder, a devastating investigation by Panorama revealed last night.
Weapons, ammunition and fuel paid for by UK taxpayers are being openly sold by Afghan officers – possibly to end-up with the Taliban – while senior police refuse to crackdown of the abuse of young boys by their officers.
Some officers appear drug-addicted, others are kidnapping civilians for ransom while in the past five weeks, four boys suspected of having been used as ‘sex slaves’ have been shot – one in the face – while attempting to escape from police commanders believed to have abducted them from their families. Three have died.
The disturbing reality of what has been achieved in the Sangin area of the troubled Helmand province and the extraordinary workings of local police were laid bare on BBC Panorama by correspondent Ben Anderson, who spent five weeks embedded with US forces in Afghanistan’s most violent area.
His stark findings questioned the optimistic assessment of some commanders and politicians, including defence secretary Philip Hammond, ahead of the full hand over next year to Afghan forces that ‘transition is proceeding very well – it is on track’.
And it raised questions too for the families of the British troops killed during anti-Taliban operations in Sangin where UK forces handed over security to the US in 2010.
Lucy Aldridge, whose 18 year-old son William, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles died there is 2009 after being blown-up while trying to rescue colleagues, said: ‘This will really make those who have lost loved ones think…it is not a surprise but very worrying.
‘If nothing has been achieved and this kind of thing is going on among the police who are meant to be responsible for law and order then everyone who has lost their lives has done so for nothing.
‘It begs the question that will be at the back of the minds of all those who lost someone in Sangin…did our loved ones lose their lives in vain?’
Mrs Aldridge said she was ‘pleased’ the failings of the police had been exposed and questioned the need for British troops to ever have become involved in Sangin.
She said that at one stage during 2009 Sangin was the most dangerous place in the world and that he son’s unit had been ‘pretty much a sitting target’ as it tried to establish a peace in which Afghan civilian police could operate.
The Panorama programme Mission Accomplished? Secrets of Helmand, highlighted the work of U.S. Marine Major Bill Steuber, who is in charge of police advisory teams.
There was despair in his voice as he said corruption among the police was rampant, comparing it to the TV show ‘the Sopranos.’ ‘It’s vast,’ he said, ‘everything from skimming ammunition off their supplies to skimming fuel off their shipments.
‘There’s false imprisonment – they’ll take people during an engagement, and they’ll just wrap everyone up, then they’ll wait for the families to come in and pay them money to be able to release them.’
The major said police often sell weapons and ammunition in the local bazaar, including rocket propelled grenades.
In one instance, a patrol base was deemed unsafe to stay in because the Afghan police were selling off the security walls as scrap metal.
Every Afghan police base has one ‘chai boy’, a tea boy, who is often barely into his teens – some are used as servants and sex slaves, Major Steuber told Anderson.
None of the commanders responsible have been arrested and referring to the frustrations of his job, the US Marine officer said : ‘Try doing that day in, day out…working with child molesters, working with people who are robbing people, murdering them.
‘It wears on you after a while.’ He adds : ‘As an adviser you are a dog with a lot of bark and not a lot of bite…if we were to shut down all of their corruption schemes you would render them ineffective.’
Many of the patrol bases British and US forces fought so hard to establish and defend have been abandoned and most of the US marines remain on base with just 18 leaving to advise Afghan police and troops at 34 sites.
Anderson said that because of the growing risk of deadly insider – or ‘green on blue’ – attacks, the Americans live completely apart from their Afghan counterparts.
Whenever the Americans enter the Afghan side of the base, they have their weapons cocked, ready to fire.
‘When they did go out, what the marines saw was far from encouraging,’ he said, ‘At one checkpoint, the Afghan police were openly smoking marijuana. Two other police officers, assigned to fill sandbags to fortify a watchtower, were high on something stronger – probably opium or heroin.
‘When one of the police commanders was shot, three weeks after I left, the American medics who saved him found a bag of heroin in his pocket.’
Anderson told how a police commander identified a factory making the improvised explosive devices that have killed hundreds of Coaltion troops and Afghan civilians and asked the Americans to close it down.
Told that it was now his job, he reluctantly agreed to mount an operation only to disappear on unannounced leave.