German and US rifts crippled efforts to build an effective police force in Afghanistan

Disagreements between the US and Germany hampered efforts to build an effective police force in Afghanistan during the NATO allies’ two decade long stay in the country, an inquiry has revealed.

The US, the inquiry heard, was unhappy with the slow pace of training provided by Germany, who was leading the instruction for police officers in Afghanistan. And in turn, Germany disagreed the US’s military-style training, which lasted only two weeks for some recruits. “We did not welcome the American involvement,” a German police chief, Peter Joerdening, told a committee of Germany MPs.

The quality of training for Afghan police declined by 2020, Joerdening added. Widespread reports of corruption also plagued the Afghan police force. Despite training 300,000 troops and 80,000 police officers, Afghan security forces were unable to resist the Taliban advance, leading to the militant group’s takeover in 2021 and the end of the 20-year US-led mission in the country.

The US considered Germany’s police training to be too slow, given the fragile security situation in Afghanistan. American trainers, who bore little resemblance to German civilian police, stepped in. Afghan authorities had little option but to accept the US training, and coordination between NATO allies never fully recovered, Joerdening said. “The need was there for stabilization. We said, ‘OK, perhaps it’s possible to have the lowest, front-line rung trained on the American track, while we do the more sustainable form.’ That was the cognitive dissonance we tried to bridge, which seemed possible at the time, but it dramatically failed.”

The inquiry also heard that responsibility for building a stable Afghan state was split between Germany’s police training, Italy’s efforts to establish an Afghan justice system, the UK’s responsibility for counter-narcotics, and the US’s focus on army training, under a division of labor agreed in 2001. However, Joerdening said the West’s promises to build a stable Afghan state were not met.

Tilmann Roeder, the head of a peacebuilding organization, said securing peace should have come before nation-building in Afghanistan. The German inquiry previously heard that Western intelligence was unaware of the poor state of the Afghan army. European powers were also kept out of the loop when the US, under former President Donald Trump, negotiated a deal with the Taliban, according to last year’s hearing. An inquiry in the UK called the manner of the country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan “a disaster and a betrayal of our allies.”