Afghan President Hamid Karzai has approved a controversial US plan for a new local defense force to help tackle the growing Taliban insurgency.
The formation of a Local Police Force is a sensitive issue for Afghans who remember the notorious militias mobilised by the Soviets during their decade-long occupation in the 1980s, and the role they played in the bloody civil war that followed.
Afghan officials say Karzai had long resisted pressure by Washington to create similar units in areas where the insurgency was strongest, but had finally agreed to the idea on Wednesday.
Present were top government officials and the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General David Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karzai’s office said in a statement.
The 150,000-strong ISAF force is suffering mounting casualties while taking on the Taliban in their southern heartland, and the United States wants Karzai to take more responsibility for security ahead of a gradual withdrawal starting next year.
“The size, salary and the period for which it will be required will be prepared by the interior ministry,” said Hamid Elmi, a spokesman for Karzai. “They (LPFs) will be formed in areas where there is insecurity.”
Elmi said the government did not plan to provide arms for the force, whose members would rely on their personal weapons. Many Afghans, particularly in rural areas, keep weapons of some sort hidden within reach, a legacy of decades of conflict.
Accountable to the interior ministry, the LPF will be tasked with helping the Afghan National Police (ANP) force with the protection of their respective areas from attacks by the insurgents, he said.
Similar schemes, such as the Community Police Force tried in eastern Nangarhar a few months ago, fizzled out after an unenthusiastic start.
The rapid creation of a national army and police force since the Taliban’s ousting and following decades of war has seen tens of thousands of Afghans join the security services, but training, equipment and pay have struggled to keep pace.
Getting local militias to provide local security is not new in counter-insurgency warfare, but their effectiveness in tackling an enemy that lives among them is disputed.