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Militia fears over new Afghan police force

28 march 2011, 12:36
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.

An initially skeptical 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.

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 told AFP.

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 percent 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."

By Pascal Mallet

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