Monday, March 31, 2008

That Critical Palestinian Authority Security Training

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice noted the need for Middle East security as the surest path to peace. Her right hand man, General Jim Jones, serves as Special Envoy for Middle East Security. And a key component of this path is training Palestinian Authority Security Forces, as they protect their leader and may someday have to root out rival Hamas fighters.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is most excited about having American security contractors guard him and train his police forces. He even told President Bush's advisers of his interest.

The sources said Abbas, opposed by several senior members of his Fatah movement, has contacted Blackwater USA, a key contractor in Iraq, for the training of a new bodyguard unit. They said Blackwater has quietly been examining the Presidential Guard and Force 17, the two units responsible for Abbas's protection.

So how's that Palestinian security force training going? It's been a struggle to say the least. A military official even got defensive over the problems to date:

"No one can deny that at the beginning there were some growing pains," said Dov Schwartz, a Defense Department official who is spokesman for the training program. "We had never done this before."

What about America's four year effort training Iraqi national police? Is that not experience? General Jim Jones led a Congressional panel on that topic just last summer. Did he not bring that knowledge to his new job? They're even using the same facility and private security contractor, DynCorp. How can they plead "no experience"? The company's website states, "DynCorp International will support projects to include training and equipping of the PA Presidential Guard (PG) and the National Security Forces (NSF)." Who knows how Defense Dept. bureaucrats get to make ridiculous claims? But nevertheless, it's the State Department's baby. In early March, Condi said:

The goal is to create "a professional and capable Palestinian security force" in part to counter Hamas, the armed Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip and does not recognize Israel.

How have they performed on the task? The problems range from numerous equipment shortages to what to cover in training in light of Israel's objections. Consider this report:

Course manuals, provided by the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, or INL, arrived after the courses began, the Americans said. The course work is in English, program administrators acknowledged, even though most of the trainees speak only Arabic.

What makes this even more amazing is DynCorp's association with a translation contractor. They are joint venture owners of GLS, winner of a $4.6 billion translation contract from the government to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. One might expect the State Department or DynCorp to have police training manuals in Arabic. While late, the instruction books did arrive.

However, much of the State Department course material consisted of excerpts from army manuals, U.S. officials confirmed. One American said trainers had to edit out sections on how to use tanks and grenade launchers to breach buildings, among others involving offensive military tactics.

"Is that normal for training? No," said William J. Durch, a senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington research group, and an expert in training international security forces. "Is that normal for a program that someone simply wanted to get going for political purposes? Yeah."

But here's the good news on this critical piece of the Middle East security situation that leads to peace.

Thomas Moselle, a State Department police adviser who is one of the program's administrators, acknowledged early problems in the program. But he denied that any curriculum or equipment shortages were hindering training.

While the politician minimizes setbacks, the people on the ground know the negative impact. One could wonder if the U.S. really wants to train a capable Palestinian force. Elements of the Washington Post piece bring this question to light:

A U.S. mission statement, dated mid-January, said Palestinian forces would receive body armor and Saudi-made light-armored personnel carriers, designed for use in riots. Israeli objections have blocked delivery of that equipment.

Israeli officials have blocked delivery of body armor to Palestinian forces of a grade capable of stopping rounds from the M-16 assault rifles used by Israeli troops, American officials said. That level of armor, however, is needed to protect against AK-47 fire from Palestinian fighters.

"You never know when these things are going to be used against you," Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry, said of armor and weapons.

Haaretz reported on the start up of the new training earlier this year. The piece cited a projected 2,000 Palestinians would be trained in 2008, out of an eventual 50,000 police force.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists a Palestinian state will not be established until the Palestinians rein in militants in the West Bank, where Abbas's secular Fatah faction holds sway, and the Gaza Strip, which Hamas seized in June.

If P.M. Olmert holds true to his word, it will be a long time before the establishment of a Palestinian state. There's little current capability to rein in militants and despite wonderful words, the work to date has been woefully inadequate.

I believe Eliot Abrahms called Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts "just process" not long ago. Could he be right? Or, is it more divide and conquer? But rest assured, Condi says everything is on track...