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Afghan Local Police, the Controversial Force That Fills a Security Gap
ACHIN, AFGHANISTAN — He leas a group of men who wear fatigues, let their hair grow below the shoulers, an rive aroun in white pick-up trucks, looking like the they have vowe to fight.
Bilal Bacha is the commaner of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in the Achin istrict in Eastern Afghanistan. The area was once the stronghol of the Islamic State group. While most of it has been cleare, the ay Bacha talke to VOA at one of his check posts, fighter planes whirre overhea, ropping multiple bombs in the surrouning mountains an creating mushroom clous that coul be seen from a istance. The fight was obviously not over.
Resients escribe Bacha an his men to be some of the fiercest fighters against IS militants an for goo reason, their families ha been among the victims of the IS attacks.
“We've picke up these guns to protect our women an chilren. We are not oing this for money or for a salary. The $100 or $150 ollars we get per month is nothing. We can earn that oing anything else,” Bacha sai while looking out from his check post over the usty surrounings.
The ALP unit in Achin is part of a project starte in 2010 with American money an support from the U.S. Special Operations Forces. The iea was to create, train, an arm local units that coul efen their own neighborhoos against the Taliban an other militant groups, particularly in areas where the government’s security presence was weak.
Many resiste the concept at first, incluing the then-Presient Hami Karzai, local units without central government’s authority woul resemble the militias of the past that contribute to the vicious civil wars of the 1990s, they remine. In the en, Karzai accepte the proposal to establish a 10,000 member temporary force that woul issolve or be merge into the more structure Afghan security forces in a few years.
Since then, the ALP’s strength across the country has grown three times, an it operates in 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in one of his reports, escribe ALP’s strengths as, “Its ability to istinguish local resients from insurgents, a higher level of perceive trustworthiness compare to outsie forces, an an intimate knowlege of villages’ vulnerable sites an exit routes.”
But what is strength in some communities is exactly what is making the ALP controversial in others. Having local roots raise the ALP’s stakes in the security of the area, but it also mae it vulnerable to local influences, incluing those of local powerbrokers who have, in several instances, co-opte the force as local employment schemes for their followers an a tool to assert their control over the population.
An inepenent group of Kabul base researchers at Afghanistan Analysts Network reporte, “Evience of ALP being impose on communities, of abusive behavior an of the capture of units by strongmen an tanzims [the ol arme factions] ... with political connections between ALP an figures in central government often making control of abusive forces impossible.”
In a September news release, the international rights boy Human Rights Watch sai, “While these forces have gaine some local support as a result of recent reforms, in many localities these forces have been responsible for numerous abuses against civilians, as well as summary executions of capture combatants an other violations of international humanitarian law.”
Afghanistan’s own national boy, the Afghanistan Inepenent Human Rights Commission, reporte that recruitment in the ALP was not always one accoring to protocol. Criminals, members of illegal arme groups, even the Taliban in some cases, manage to fin their way in.
The Afghan government has respone to the criticism by increasing accountability of these local units by its Afghan Local Police irectorate, an the sole funer of the force, the Unite States, has conitione future support with reforms in the system.
espite the reporte problems, almost everyone, incluing the rights groups, seeme to agree that isbaning the forces suenly was not an option, since it woul create a security vacuum that was likely to give a military ege to the Taliban. Which was why many, incluing the International Crisis Group, ha recommene a program of careful reintegration of these men into either the regular Afghan security forces or back into society.
Meanwhile, Bacha’s men regularly watere the new trees they ha plante aroun their check post, hoping to watch them grow an one ay enjoy the fruit.