The Afghan Analysts Network has produced an extensive and critical report, written by Mathieu Lefevre, on Local Defence in Afghanistan. The report examines the use of "informal armed groups" - the local militias financed by the Afghan government and US military, particularly in areas where the Taliban is gaining ground.
Lefevre examined the Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police, which was launched in 2006 by the Ministry of Interior and closed down in 2008. He also looks at the Afghan Public Protection Programme (known as AP3) which was set up in Wardak with the support of US Special Forces.
The third force examined is the Local Defence Initiatives, which started last summer. As Lefevre comments: "According to policy documents, the overall aim of LDI is to ‘secure local communities’ by giving ‘responsibility and employment to village members’ so that they ‘no longer provide support for insurgents’ and ‘will not allow insurgents to live within their village’.
"In a part of Arghandab district in, Kandahar province, the program is at a more advanced stage: a group of ‘defenders’ selected from the community provides security and work closely with US Special Forces, while a large group of villagers receives incentives in the form of agricultural and cash-for-work projects. The program is funded by the US military."
Lefevre says that the relationship between government-backed armed groups and the Afghan National Security Forces is often problematic and that such programs may deter prospective candidates for the police and army. He also points out that it is difficult to avoid picking sides when working with local groups, which may have long-term consequences.
Where success is evident, this is usually due to a relationship with highly trained international forces working with these government militias and is unlikely to survive for long without them. However, Lefevre recognises that the LDIs are not going to go away and that they now represent a model for reintegrating former Taliban insurgents. And bound up within this debate is a wider discussion about whether or not the Taliban can be militarily defeated and whether Coalition forces are "fighting to win" or simply gearing themselves towards an exit from the conflict.
If you want to know what these local militias look like close up then I suggest you read One Tribe at a Time by Major Jim Gant, about whom I have written before. You can read about him here.
One final point: apologies for my absence for the last few weeks, caused by a combination of a home move and a very inefficient ISP.
Foreign Affairs: book reviews for Russia today
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