KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Lt. Col. Abdul Hadi, a police commander in Kandahar city didn't mince words during a meeting with a young U.S. Army officer overseeing an infusion of elite Afghan security forces in his district.
"Most of the people here, they wear turbans, but they are not Talib," Hadi said, using the singular for Taliban. "But they're being searched like they are Talibs."
Hadi's remarks point to a dilemma for U.S. forces. Ordinary Afghan police are widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. But a U.S. plan to have the better-trained Afghan National Civil Order Police, or ANCOP, take the lead in curbing violence in this Taliban stronghold of half a million people could risk alienating the ultimate prize — the residents.
Local police chiefs like Hadi resent the reinforcements, saying they're outsiders who don't know the people or the neighborhoods. And the residents are angry over searches and checkpoints that make them feel as though they're the enemy.
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Determined not to repeat the missteps of the operation in Marjah six months ago, when ANCOP units were thrown together and rushed into the fight with little experience working with their colleagues, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are moving more deliberately in Kandahar, the biggest southern city and the Taliban's former headquarters. They're resolved to defeat the militants with minimal use of force.
But the ANCOP, which struggled in Marjah, may still not be ready.
The ANCOP unit in Hadi's area is from Kabul, about 300 miles to the northeast. So they're unfamiliar with the territory and the language spoken in Kandahar.
Army Capt. Tadd Lyman, the platoon commander and the officer who met with Hadi, described the ANCOP officers as a well-trained and skilled group. But he acknowledged the regional differences pose obstacles because in Afghanistan people are defined by their tribe and ethnicity.
"They have a more difficult time relating to one another," said Lyman, a lanky West Point graduate who's been in Afghanistan for nearly a year. "They don't have the level of interest in a region they're not from, which I think can be a problem."
Skepticism that the ANCOP will display more skill and professionalism than regular police runs deep among many people in Kandahar.