Watchdog: US troops used cop shows for help training Afghan forces

Watchdog: US troops used cop shows for help training Afghan forces
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U.S. troops watched cop shows and used slides from an operation in Eastern Europe for help training Afghan security forces, a U.S. watchdog said Thursday in a new report slamming U.S. training efforts in the country.

“One U.S. officer watched TV shows like 'Cops' and 'NCIS' to learn what he should teach,” John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a speech introducing the report.

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“At one point, training sessions for Afghan police were using PowerPoint-based curricula from the U.S.-NATO Balkan operations,” Sopko added later in the speech. “The presentations were not only of questionable relevance to the Afghan setting, but also overlooked the high levels of illiteracy among the police. Such cut-and-paste activities, lifted from one country and slapped onto another like a decal, are not likely to boost the prospects for overall success.”

The inspector general's latest “Lessons Learned” report comes as the U.S. is in the process of sending more than 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 11,000 already there.

U.S. troops are in Afghanistan on a dual mission. One is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban, and the other is to conduct counterterrorism missions against groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

From 2002 to 2016, the U.S. spent $70 billion of its Afghanistan reconstruction funds to build up the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), according to the report. The U.S. still devotes about $4 billion annually on the effort.

One reason training efforts have faltered, the report said, is because the U.S. government was ill-prepared. In particular, the U.S. doesn't have a deployable police-development capability for high-threat environments and so has relied on U.S. Army aviators, infantry officers and civilian contractors to train Afghan police. It was in that context a U.S. officer watched "Cops" and "NCIS," Sopko said.

Sopko also knocked U.S. and NATO officials for taking “little to no” input from Afghan officials on ANDSF development.

“The work of securing Afghan buy-in mostly took the form of briefing Afghan leaders on what military plans and training programs the Westerners had selected for the ANDSF,” he said. “Perhaps I am naive, but that does not strike me as an ingratiating approach to fostering a successful outcome.”

Still, Afghan forces are improving, and Sopko is “cautiously optimistic” the United States will do better on its efforts, he added.

“The ANDSF is fighting hard, and improving in many ways,” he said. “But we have to do a better job of assisting their growth. Smarter and more appropriate security assistance is vital, now in Afghanistan, and later in whatever new contingencies arise. Based on our discussions with key leaders in our military, in [Department of Defense] offices and at the National Security Council, I am cautiously optimistic.”