When NATO troops train Afghan police, their most intensive class is not marksmanship, checkpoint procedure or riot control. It’s reading and writing.

Only 11 percent of enlisted personnel and 35 percent of noncommissioned officers in Afghanistan’s army and police are literate, according to NATO trainers. That is undermining the troops’ effectiveness as NATO works to build up Afghan forces at a time when NATO leaders meeting in Lisbon, Portugal over the weekend confirmed a plan to hand over security powers to them by 2014.

There have been numerous reports of illiterate Afghan security forces getting into trouble. An army unit calling an airstrike down on itself in July because they couldn’t read a map. Officers who couldn’t read the serial numbers on their weapons or tell what size ammunition they should use. A unit that would set up a checkpoint, but could not read the ID cards of drivers passing through.

Often police can’t write down witness statements or look up a law. In some cases, police chiefs were stealing their subordinates’ salaries, and illiterate recruits could not detect the theft.

“Illiteracy is like being blind,” said Col. Mohammad Hashim, the Afghan training chief of the Central Training Center for police. “None of them could solve a problem. None of them could apply the law.”

The Lisbon summit agreed to begin handing off security responsibility to Afghan security forces in early 2011, with a full transition targeted for the end of 2014. But the Afghan forces have a long way to go before then.

Creating an efficient and reliable security force is a crucial to NATO’s effort to undercut the Taliban, on the battlefield and in the eyes of the Afghan people, who do not trust the justice system. The Taliban have long used Afghanistan’s corruption and lawlessness as a recruiting tool, promising stability and the rule of law through the use of strict Islamic justice.

Source: Katherine Houreld for The Associated Press.

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When NATO troops train Afghan police, their most intensive class is not marksmanship, checkpoint…