Last year, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus persuaded Afghan President Hamid Karzai to authorize a new program to establish local defense forces there — seemingly modeled after the “Sons of Iraq” — that U.S. officials thought would help with security and thwarting the Taliban in remote parts of the country. Karzai had initially resisted, fearing that the “forces could harden into militias that his weak government could not control.”
This is exactly what appears to be happening. According to a new report to be released tomorrow from Refugees International (RI), the Afghan Local Police (ALP) units are “a major threat to civilians and stability” because they are “poorly vetted, ill-trained and unsupervised.” “These armed groups,” the report says, “have allegedly committed abuses including murder, theft, extortion, bribery and intimidation.” From the report (emphasis added):
RI interviewed IDPs who reported that newly formed militias had been sent to their village in Jawzjan province and proceeded to loot, harass and forcibly tax the population. In March, a UN report cited concerns regarding the ALP’s “weak oversight, recruitment, vetting and command and control mechanisms, limited training for recruits…”
Afghans, government officials, UN staff and aid workers all told RI that many recruits are receiving as little as “a couple of days” of training, a highly concerning trend given the fact that a large majority are illiterate and lack policing experience. They reported that local leaders are circumventing the ALP vetting process due to pressure to expedite recruitment. Moreover, RI was told of instances where powerful warlords pressure local leaders to formalize pre-existing militias into the ALP — often around tribal, ethnic or political lines — so they can use these units to avenge personal disputes or strengthen their influence.
Indeed, the New York Times reported earlier this month that former Taliban members who have switched allegiances and joined ALP are imposing an “Islamic tax” on Afghans. Similarly, RI reported that one former Taliban “reintegree” was recruited to serve as an ALP commander, but he “is notorious for using his position for personal gain and ordering night raid operations against those who get in his way.”
The report also says that the number of Afghans who have fled their villages has more than doubled in the first five months of this year (91,000), compared to the same time period last year (42,000). RI blames Afghan forces’ military operations against the Taliban, the increasing use of airstrikes, and night raids by U.S. Special Forces.
As for Petraeus’s ALP program, RI recommends that Congress withhold funding until the secretary of defense “certifies that adequate recruitment, vetting, discipline and command/control structures have been established, as well as a clear timeframe for the program’s integration into the ANP.”