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Interpol is lending a hand to police in Afghanistan

The international agency aims to ensure suspected militants are photographed and fingerprinted.

October 05, 2008|Jason Straziuso | Associated Press

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — When the Taliban engineered a prison break in the southern city of Kandahar in June, nearly 900 inmates escaped. But not a single one had been fingerprinted or photographed.

Though foreign militants are flowing into Afghanistan from Pakistan, Iran and the Russian republic of Chechnya, authorities often fail to track them with fingerprints and photos. Even when they do, they are not always able to transfer the documentation to international databases.

Interpol now hopes to bring Afghanistan up to its standards.

The international police organization wants to boost police capabilities here with equipment and training and help connect police around the country with the Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul.

"When you look around the world, where was the largest prison escape of terrorists in the world? Afghanistan," Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said on a recent visit. "Where do people believe the fighters from Iraq are moving? Afghanistan. Where have the Al Qaeda and Taliban shown a resurgence that should catch all of our attention? It's in Afghanistan."

The initiative could help alert police around the world when their wanted criminals are captured in the Afghan-Pakistani region.

An increasing number of terrorist plots aimed at Europe are being traced to Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border. Militants obtain training and weapons there, and they cross into Afghanistan to carry out attacks.

Currently, no Afghan police offices in the country's 34 provinces can take fingerprints and send them to Kabul, the capital, to be entered into international databases, said B.S. Sardar Awa, the head of Afghanistan's Interpol office. Police in Kabul are able to submit information to Interpol.

Gen. Abdul Jalal Jalal, provincial police chief of the northeastern province of Kunar, next to Pakistan, said his region in particular needs more advanced police tools.

"We are arresting people without any documents, and we don't know who they are, and it's very difficult for us," Jalal said. "If we had advanced tests like fingerprinting or DNA, we could send it to Kabul and they could send it to Interpol."

After Noble's visit here recently, Awa said he hoped to soon equip five to seven provinces with such equipment. But that would leave many other provinces lacking, including regions that border Iran and Pakistan. Drug runners cross those borders to deal in Afghanistan's billion-dollar heroin poppy trade.

That means Afghanistan probably wouldn't be able to replicate the capture by Iraqi police of an international terrorism suspect who had traveled from Morocco to Iraq. Moroccan Abdesslam Bakkali was arrested by Iraqi police in August 2004 for alleged involvement in terrorist attacks there.

Iraqi officials took his fingerprints and sent them to Interpol headquarters in France, where officials determined that Bakkali was wanted by Moroccan officials for alleged involvement in the 2003 Casablanca bombings, police officials said, revealing for the first time details of a successful police capture of an internationally wanted terrorism suspect in the Iraq war zone.

"That model is a model we want to use in Afghanistan, the same principle, the same approach, based on successes we've had," Noble said.

"We're able to demonstrate that by sharing information internationally, we can show them that the non-Afghanis coming here to engage in terrorists attacks, it's not their first terrorist attack, it's not their first link with terrorism. By linking these cases, we have a better chance of breaking these cases internationally."

Afghan police have the least training and equipment of all the nation's security forces. Already this year, more than 750 police have been killed in militant attacks, the Interior Ministry says. The police are receiving millions of dollars' worth of training and equipment from the U.S., but they have a long way to go to reach international standards.

Neither Noble nor Awa gave details about who would pay for the new Interpol-compatible equipment.

Afghanistan now has about 65,000 international troops, including about 33,000 American forces, but Noble said the international community needed to spend more time boosting police capabilities.

A June study from the Washington-based Rand Corp. found that U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization success in Afghanistan hinges in great part on the ability of the international community to build up the police force. The study found that Afghan police now are "corrupt, incompetent, underresourced and often loyal to local commanders rather than to the central government."

"We know the challenges confronting the Afghan police are huge, and we know that everyone's talking about the military, the military, let's send more troops in," Noble said. "We're saying we should be devoting as much effort, if not more, to the police, because once the military leaves, the police are going to be left to defend the rule of law."

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