Irresponsible Militias

by Joshua Foust on 6/28/2011 · 3 comments

Honest brokers of the stories coming out of Afghanistan cannot say the ALP program—the Afghan Local Police, the latest scheme in a long, tattered history of trying to do “local security” in Afghanistan—is anything other than a muddled half-success. Most of the arguments I was aware of place the blame on ISAF’s inability to vet the recruits, the lack of accountability structures, and the very strong likelihood they will encourage a renewal of the warlordism that everyone wants to avoid.

Refugees International, however, offers an additional angle to the ALP story, which is part of a grander story they tell of the effects of the last two years of COIN: massive disruption to civilian life.

Despite the U.S. military’s claims of progress, insurgent attacks are up by 50% over last year, and more than 250,000 people have fled their villages in the past two years. U.S. funded and trained militias are only exacerbating this explosive situation…

Since January 1, more than 91,000 Afghans have fled their villages – compared with 42,000 over the same time period last year. This is mostly due to international and Afghan forces’ military operations against the Taliban…

Although General Petraeus touts local defense initiatives as successfully thwarting the insurgency, the proliferation of militias is increasing insecurity, especially in the north. Many new militias operate under the guise of the U.S./ISAF-backed Afghan Local Police (ALP) initiative. Internally Displaced People (IDPs), government officials, security analysts and humanitarian actors told RI that the expansion of poorly vetted, ill-trained and unsupervised ALP units and irregular militias are a major threat to civilians and stability. These armed groups have allegedly committed abuses including murder, theft, extortion, bribery and intimidation.

And so on. RI is explicit, and strident, in their condemnation of the ALP program, which is hastily-assembled and barely controlled. And they focus their criticism on the ALPs in the North, which is the sight both of a renewed insurgent offensive and probably the area with the most at stake (since it is typically the most “pro-western,” however that is defined).

In short, the military’s continued insistence on quick-fix programs to address large-scale, systemic issues is having precisely the effect thinking people could have guessed it would have: a bad one. The temporary success they showed in their first few months—I’ve written glowingly of a similar, but different, special forces-led initiative while condemning the use of militias—have evaporated, as all too many temporary successes in Afghanistan have. I hope General Allen, when he finally takes over from Petraeus, can inject a little bit of sanity into the war.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

Martin Sepulveda June 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

The problem is that RAND has spoken. Many who see this debacle for what it is will have great hopes for Gen Allen, but in the end I believe that POTUS, SecDef, State (nation builders) will opt out as soon as politically expidient. With the lack of a coherent mission and end state, maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Don Bacon June 28, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Americans are so naive. . .
from NPR:

[Captain] Schwengler is hoping to recruit, pay and arm a squad of the new community watch program. The program has changed its name several times since summer, but it’s based on the one in Iraq that helped turn the tide against al-Qaida. The commander of U.S. forces here, Gen. David Petraeus, pushed the program through despite public doubts expressed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. B Company has been canvassing the local villages hoping to get elders to come to their base for a shura, or council, to start forming the village guards.

. . .with bad results.
from RI:

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.

Martin Sepulveda June 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

One thing that should already be clear is that models based on success in Iraq don’t necessarily translate to success in AFG. Aside from the problems of training and equipping “qualified” recruits, there is the problem of getting these guys to show up for work. As our time on the ground draws closer to 2014, the only viable units will be built around existing militias. To think otherwise is foolish.

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