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Presentation of the SIGAR report “Police in Conflict”

On 20 October 2022, at the Carabinieri Officers’ College in Rome, in presence of the Carabinieri Deputy Commander Lieutenant General MEZZAVILLA, it has been presented the report “Police in Conflict: lessons from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan”, produced by the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in collaboration with the NATO Stability Policing Centre of Excellence based in Vicenza [(NATO SP CoE).

The event, included speeches given by John SOPKO, Special Inspector General of the SIGAR; Ambassador Stefano PONTECORVO, last Senior Civilian Representative of NATO in Afghanistan; Ms. Irene FELLIN, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security (also Head of NATO Human Security Office); and the Director of the NATO Stability Policing Centre of Excellence, Colonel Carabinieri Giuseppe DE MAGISTRIS.

During the opening remarks Col. DE MAGISTRIS, Director of the NATO Stability Policing Centre of Excellence, given the outcomes of the report, proposed a reflection on what NATO might consider to evaluate, namely, the creation of:

  • a specific Policing Capability;
  • a Police Domain, in addition to the existing five, to be positioned in a cross-cutting posture to support each one of them;
  • a structured network of Stability Policing experts across the Alliance, made up of the many members of the Gendarmerie Type Forces working both in the NATO Command Structure and in the NATO Force Structure

SIGAR Special Inspector General John F.SOPKO, highlighted that the need to support the establishment of a credible local police force, geared to the protection of the population and not contaminated by corruption, had been neglected from the early stages of the intervention in Afghanistan. In particular, the Inspector General pointed out that the choice to transfer, as of 2005, the responsibility for the training of the Afghan Police Forces from the State Department to the Department of Defense, turned out to be a wrong choice. Indeed the choice of a progressive “militarization” of police training, thus focusing on a “Counter Insurgency” role at the expense of a “Community Policing” role, was crucial in the progressive collapse of Afghan institutions. The Inspector General concluded stating that NATO needs to have an expeditionary force made out of Gendarmes, such as Carabinieri, to successfully carry out a deployment in crisis areas.

Ambassador Pontecorvo pointed out that SP, being a robust police institution – “Stability Policing cannot be but robust” – would have made the difference in Afghanistan, because it would certainly have had the control of territory, especially in those tribal areas far from Kabul’s authority. In this regard, Ambassador Pontecorvo reported that the lack of prestige of the Afghan police was determined, firstly, because police forces were considered a backup force of the army, consequently, the importance of having police forces in crisis areas had been underestimated.

Minister Plenipotentiary Alessandro Cattaneo from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after recalling the Allies’ sacrifice in Afghanistan, both during 20 years of service and for the evacuation from the theatre of operations, highlighted the need for the lessons learned process that started after  last event.  He stated that NATO, in the ever-changing world geopolitical situation, needs Stability Policing as a precious multi-utility tool: in this field Italy can provide an invaluable asset of proven experience, the Carabinieri. For the safety of the Euro-Atlantic area, he concluded advocating for a complete functional interoperability between NATO and EU.

NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security — Dr. Irene FELLIN —stressed the need to include a “Stability Policing dimension” in the protection of civilians. She also highlighted that the Comprehensive Approach by NATO cannot be separated from the balanced coexistence of purely military instruments along with additional capabilities and a wider spectrum with a specific focus on populations. This would include Stability Policing which fills a clear “gap” in the list of instruments available to the Alliance. Moreover, she drew attention to NATO’s Human Security issues and to the role Stability Policing plays in NATO’s integrated approach to the management of current and future crises, with a focus on what is happening in Ukraine.

<<Police in Conflict: lessons from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan>> is the 12th annual report from its establishment in January 2008, published on June 1, 2022, three days after it was handed over to the United States Congress. The report came after 20 years and more than 20 billion dollars spent by the United States together with the entire International Community in police assistance in the c.d. “Country of kites”.

The report is the result of a prolonged research and collection of lessons in which the NATO Centre of Excellence for the Stability Police actively participated also in Afghanistan, by virtue of a Cooperation Agreement between the CoE and the SIGAR signed in December 2019 and which will be extended until 31 December 2024, the date on which the SIGAR will cease its mandate.

Confirming the value attributed to this collaboration, both in the introductory part and in the recognition section, SIGAR praised the contribution made by the Centre of Excellence with special thanks to the effort made in developing and finalising the particular research activity.

On this regard, it should be pointed out that:

  • NATO Stability Policing Centre of Excellence:
  • is the only external body to have ever collaborated with SIGAR on Lessons Learned. On the other hand, in general terms, it is one of only three partners that SIGAR has ever had (alongside the United Nations and the World Bank);
  • In the residential research and development activities of the contributions, benefited from the support of Subject Matter Experts of the Centre of excellence for the Stability Police Units and of the European Gendarmeries General Headquarters, also expressly thanked in the report.
  •  The report, in addition to 11 key findings, also identifies:

. 10 lessons, the first (and main) of which provides a phenomenal assist to the concept of Stability Policing given that it identifies the cause of the failure of efforts to create an effective police force in Afghanistan in the lack of << an expeditionary police assistance capability resourced with sufficient numbers of qualified and trained police assistance experts required for most stabilization and reconstruction missions in nations suffering from high levels of violence>>;

. As highlighted in the conclusions, one of the major critical factors behind the failure of the 20-year-old international presence in Afghanistan was the inability to build an effective and, above all, reliable police force that could protect the population from criminals and uphold the country’s rule of law.