Afghan militia experiment yields mixed results

2015-08-04 21:30


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Kabul - Lotfullah Kamran, 26, led an anti-Taliban uprising in 2012 in his village in southern Afghanistan's Ghazni province, along a strategically important national highway.

The revolt got rid of the Taliban, and he became the district police commander.

Two years later, Kamran is jobless and in hiding, and his district is divided among the Taliban, the Afghan security forces and the Pasoons - "uprisers" in the local Pashto language - the anti-Taliban militia he formed.

"What started as a homegrown spontaneous uprising in Andar district was soon co-opted by the Afghan and foreign intelligence agencies," said political analyst Borhan Osman, an Andar native.

"Government officials patronised and encouraged the militia," he said. "It was a great idea to have a public uprising against the Taliban."

Conversations with local residents presents a more complex picture.

"Some of the Pasoon commanders were involved in the extrajudicial killings of those they did not like, or who they thought were Taliban sympathisers," a tribal elder from Alizai village told dpa on condition of anonymity.

"They were involved in robbery, extortion and physical abuse."

'They brought back the Taliban'

Osman said the Pasoons, who remained outside the jurisdiction of local security agencies, "harassed the villagers".

"Instead of becoming a deterrent to the Taliban they brought back the Taliban, because they became the more unpopular force."

Currently, there are two types of militias in Afghanistan: the government-funded Afghan Local Police (ALP), which is under the Interior Ministry, and the informal pro-government militias, which report to no one.

The ALP programme started in 2010 at the behest of US forces. Informal village militias under local strongmen were equipped and financed to fight the Taliban.

The ALP number around 30 000 across the country, and the programme costs $120m a year, a quarter of the price per member of the national police or military.

No one seems to know the exact number of pro-government militia personnel.

But analysts say both the ALP and militias are becoming a threat.

'Cheap but dangerous'

The International Crisis Group in its June report said "cheap but dangerous" ALP militias exacerbated the conflict in some places.

In 2014, 53 civilians were killed by pro-government militias, while 52 were killed by ALP, according to a UN report. One-fifth of all civilian deaths came at the hands of Afghan forces.

In northern province of Kunduz, which saw a massive Taliban onslaught this summer, locals blamed ALP for the lack of security.

Mir Ghawsuddin, a tribal elder in Chahardara district, said the Taliban made a comeback because the ALP could not fight the insurgents and abandoned their posts.

Last month, Mullah Abdul Salaam, the elusive Taliban chief for Kunduz, said local militias controlled most areas, so the Taliban had to resort to "guerrilla war tactics."

"Tens of notorious militiamen were killed and wounded. A number of militiamen surrendered to mujahideen and a huge amount of arms and ammunition was seized as bounty," he told Shahamat, the official Taliban website.

Some local residents who did not support the Taliban found themselves forced nevertheless to take up arms against ALP abuses, Ghawsuddin said.

"The ALP robbed and maimed the villagers. They stole things," he said.

Now, most of Chardhara is under Taliban control.

"ALP weaknesses contributed to insecurity that threatened to overwhelm Kunduz city," the International Crisis Group report said.

Collect 'taxes' from the local population

But in neighbouring Qala-e-Zal district, Nabi Gechi, a local strongman who commands some 400 militiamen, is one reason the district has not fallen to the Taliban, villagers said.

Since foreign troops left in 2013, Gechi said he stopped receiving salaries for his militia. So he started collecting "taxes" from the local population, at $2 per couple per month.

"At least three villages in this district are under Taliban control. But 98% of the district is under our control," he said.

He said 100 out of 400 men would be paid for by the government under the ALP programme.

In the southern province of Kandahar's Panjwai and Zhari, two of the most volatile districts in Afghanistan, the ALP programme had success this summer, which suprised even officials and analysts.

"I had expected that the ALP project would be a liability in Panjwai and Zhari. But they were not," Osman said.

"Tribal dynamics are very important there, and the tribes decided that ALP was a better alternative to the Taliban there," he said.

"Even the Noorzais - the minority tribe that are largely anti-state - who supported the Taliban, are in favour of the ALP. In fact, they contributed men for the ALP in those districts."

Sadiqullah, 25, commands 580 ALP men in Zhari district, which was under Taliban rule until last year. He said hiring locals for security turned the tide against the Taliban.

"The ALP is a success story here. Both the Americans and the Taliban are out.

"ALP progress is slow, but successful because our sons and nephews protect the district," said Dad Gul, a village chieftain who lobbied for the ALP programme in Zhari after foreign troops left last year.

"Half of my village had left. Now almost all of them have returned to their homes," he said.

Read more on:    taliban  |  afghanistan  |  asia

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