Fears of Violence in Afghan Takeover


'There is No Intimidation Factor'

Mehterlam is not a large city, and it would be possible to walk through the neighborhoods housing its more than 100,000 residents in a few hours. U.S. police mentors have tried to convince the police to do just that – spend more time on the beat, less time at checkpoints or in their stations.

But while with the police, ABC News did not witness a single occasion where they walked down the street. Offices would set up checkpoints and respond to emergencies, but they were not familiarizing themselves with the city they now officially protect.

Perhaps that is understandable. Their equipment is far from satisfactory for a province still suffering from a robust insurgency.

Not only do they lack armored vehicles and bulletproof vests, they have no equipment to detect or defuse IEDs. Mehmood, the precinct captain, sheepishly admits he has to call the Americans each time he finds a roadside bomb. They have radios, but not enough, so they have to rely on their cell phones.

And everywhere they go, they are easily outnumbered. Mehmood said that late last week five of his men spotted an insurgent placing an IED. Three secured the scene, he said, while two ran after the man. But when they finally caught him, the police were quickly outnumbered. Fifteen villagers came and threatened the police -- who had to walk away, fearing for their lives.

"There's no intimidation factor," says Lt. Col. Adrian Donahoe, a special forces soldier who mentors the Afghan security forces. "They walk down the street, they have no vests, no helmets, and nobody is scared of them."

A senior aide to President Hamid Karzai said it will likely take 10 years before cities like Mehterlam have a functioning police department. The city, though, needs them for security as of today.

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"The Taliban will continue to use suicide attackers and IEDs," Mehmood said. "But if we receive the right equipment and more men, we will be ok."

Donahoe says he tries to convince the local police officers to patrol more. But he admits that Mehmood needs at least triple the number of officers in order to properly secure the city. Afghan officials said they have requested four times the current number -- and expect to receive the manpower boost, eventually.

"It's a long process. It's going to take a while for them to feel the confidence and for the people to feel confident talking to them," Donahoe says. "It will come. Nobody says you can build trust immediately overnight."

Residents say they want to have that trust in their police, but they see the lack of equipment and doubt how quickly it can happen. They also say after dark, security drops considerably. Local residents say no government official would ever go close to the jail, for example, which is in the northeast section of the city, after 4:00 p.m. And just next to the governor's house, residents say they can't go into Mehterlam Park during the day for fear of attack by the mix of criminals and dope addicts who call it home.

More than anything, though, residents complain about the Taliban's threats. Government officials, journalists, and anyone running programs funded by U.S. money say they can be targeted. Multiple officials brought up the assassination of a member of the provincial council in March -- by IED -- as proof the Taliban would follow through on their threats.

The local program director for Radio and Television Afghanistan says the Taliban have texted him regularly in the last year, threatening him for playing music and for being too pro-government. In response, he has reduced the amount of music and made sure female performers are covered while on the air.

One man who used to work at the U.S. base said he quit after being told to by a Taliban commander.

And judges and prosecutors say they are constantly targeted by insurgents – as well as the politically powerful – to make sure they do not try and go after the Taliban. One judge said Taliban fighters actually visited his home.

"We have asked for more security for years," says the province's chief prosecutor, Sayed Anbar Pacha. "There's been no response."

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