Over the past year, 1,555 Afghan police officers have been killed. That’s more than twice the number of Afghan soldiers who died in the same period, although there are 35,000 fewer officers than soldiers in the country, according to the U.S.-led coalition. In the same period, 474 U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan. The police death toll in June, 246 officers — a rate of eight a day — was 50 percent higher than in any other month in the past year.
The 135,000 Afghan police officers generally receive less training, more-rudimentary equipment and lower pay than their army colleagues. Although soldiers drive around in armored Humvees, most police officers travel in pickup trucks, even though they are often called upon to operate in areas rife with insurgents. But U.S. military officials are hoping the police can become the primary long-term solution to Afghanistan’s woes, a force they envision as growing even as the more expensive army shrinks in the future.
For now, they remain the weakest, and most regularly hammered, link in the war against the Taliban.
“The army is looked after very well — they get good food and Pepsi,” said Lt. Mohammad Qahir, 41, a police officer based at the governor’s compound in Parwan province, north of Kabul. “The police stand in the sun all day and don’t get anything.”
Qahir was away from his post on a day last month that has come to typify the grim existence of Afghanistan’s police. When he heard a commotion begin on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 14, he was unarmed, he said, because there were not enough guns to go around for the small team guarding the governor’s gate.
His colleague, Rahimullah, said that he was stationed at the door when a black Toyota Corolla pulled up and men in police uniforms demanded entry. Rahimullah said he soon recognized that the men were suicide bombers.
As the Taliban insurgents stormed the compound, Rahimullah was shot in the left leg, took grenade shrapnel in his back and broke his ankle, he said later from his hospital bed.
Another police officer, Aynuddin, woke from his nap, rolled off his cot and rushed to the doorway of the police shack. As he stepped outside, a bullet pierced his left thigh, he recalled. He fell down and passed out.
Seeing this unfold, Mohammad Azim, a 31-year-old officer who had been lounging in the shade in a blue plastic chair when the Taliban attack began, said he fired some shots from his Kalashnikov, then ran to hide in an empty kitchen as the suicide bombers stalked the grounds. He was alone. The room was dark. He had three bullets left.