LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - When British trainers administered random drugs tests to 25 Afghan police recruits at a base in southern Helmand province, most of them failed.
One recruit was kicked out of the force. The others were given warnings.
Heroin shouldn't be tolerated, but there is no point kicking out the ones who smoke hashish: there would be too few left, their Afghan commander said.
Training Afghan police is a central part of NATO's strategy to eventually turn over responsibility for security in the country to Afghan forces so that Western troops -- soon to number 150,000 -- can begin withdrawing next year.
NATO aims to increase the number of Afghan soldiers and police by 50 percent to a total of 282,000 by mid-2011, when U.S. President Barack Obama says he will begin withdrawing forces.
But commanders acknowledge it is an uphill battle. Afghan recruits are frequently illiterate, many desert soon after joining. Some may be insurgent infiltrators. One policeman killed five British soldiers in November.
And -- if the random testing administered in Helmand is anything to go by -- many are on drugs.
"So far we've found three tested positive for amphetamines and also opiates, approximately 15 for the use of hashish," British Army Captain Pete Alexander, a police instructor, told Reuters, looking over the results of the 25 tests.
The amphetamine and opiates test can only find traces of use of the drugs within the past three days. When the three who failed were given a second chance a few days later, two of them managed to pass. The other was fired.
Those who had failed the test for hashish were forced to stand up and be reprimanded in front of their class of 300 recruits at a parade. But there is no point in kicking them out, since use of the drug is so common, their commander said.
"At first when we understand someone is using hashish we tell them it is not right to use hashish. The second time we just give them a warning. The third time we try helping them to quit the stuff, and finally we sack them," Colonel Mahmoud Refik Sheriar told Reuters.
"When it comes to heroin we don't want those guys, we just fire them right away. It is not only harmful to themselves, it is sort of a contagious addiction. That's why we don't want them."
Reporting by Baris Atayman; editing by Peter Graff