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Militia fears over new police force

world Updated: Mar 28, 2011 11:57 IST

A controversial US-backed scheme to arm Afghan villagers against the Taliban could backfire and eventually lead to a new generation of warlords, say policy experts who fear an upsurge in militias.

The creation of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) is a key part of the American military's counter-insurgency strategy as the US prepares to start withdrawing its 90,000 troops from Afghanistan this summer.

With local forces due to take over security in parts of the country within months in preparation for the planned departure of foreign troops by the end of 2014, urgent efforts are under way to bolster the local police.

The United States has described the ALP as a temporary solution to a chronic shortage of police officers in many parts of the country, exacerbated by the Taliban's repeated targeting of would-be recruits.

But critics of the local police force compare it to the tribal militias which Afghanistan's communist leaders bankrolled in the 1980s to help them defeat an uprising against the 1979 Soviet invasion, some of which later turned against the government.

"We don't need any more Dostams," said Nader Nadery of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, referring to the feared Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam, who famously betrayed ally after ally as the country's power base shifted.

Many people believe that the ruthlessness of Dostam and others like him paved the way for the Taliban to seize power in the mid-1990s after years of civil war in Afghanistan.

An initially sceptical President Hamid Karzai agreed last August to the creation of the ALP force, which will come under the control of the interior ministry, but concerns remain.

Hekmat Karzai, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, warned there was a danger of creating "Frankenstein's monster" if the ALP was not carefully monitored.

NATO's top civilian representative in Afghanistan Mark Sedwill said the force would be "under very close scrutiny," citing "the very concerns that President Karzai expressed that they would become militias."

"Weapons are registered, their biometrics are registered, and they are under the operational responsibility of the local police chief," he said.

Sedwill said the force was designed as a short-term measure, but it was likely to be a source of recruitment for the Afghan police force.

To date, 4,000 members have been recruited and there are plans for a 30,000-strong force, which would allow for about 300 men to be sent to 100 of Afghanistan's 420 districts.

ALP recruits receive three weeks of training and the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, which is responsible for training and equipping Afghan security forces, provides weapons, radios and vehicles.

They are paid around 60% of the basic national police salary of $165, and wear a different uniform.

"They have no arrest authority, they have only defensive capacity and they are used locally," said American general William Caldwell, the head of the NTMA. "We don't want warlords."