Can Local Militias Save Afghanistan?

General Petraeus's big new idea

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Even before the top U.S. commander in the country General Stanley McChrystal resigned, things were not going well in Afghanistan. Many U.S. and U.K. observers have been wondering whether, after nine years of fighting, we can still win. Now that President Barack Obama has replaced McChrystal with General David Petraeus to lead the Afghan mission, the four-star hero of Iraq knows he has to implement new ideas. Petraeus's first big gambit is a plan, backed by NATO and the Afghan government, to establish local militias that would police the area and defend against insurgents like the Taliban. Here's what it would look like and first thoughts on how it would work.

  • How Militia Plan Would Work  The New York Times' Alissa Rubin callss them "lightly armed, trained and, significantly, paid force in a nation starving for jobs." She writes, "Over 12 days of talks, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new NATO commander, overcame the objections of President Hamid Karzai, who had worried that the forces could harden into militias that his weak government could not control. In the end, the two sides agreed that the forces would be under the supervision of the Afghan Interior Ministry, which will also be their paymaster." A Pentagon spokesman called them "government-formed, government-paid, government-uniformed local police units who would keep any eye out for bad guys."
  • Combining Military and Civilian Goals  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung and Rajiv Chandrasekaran call this "an attempt to build grass-roots opposition to the Taliban." The plan would mesh with "the civilian elements of the [Afghan war] policy, including its focus on agricultural development and better Afghan governance, and the overall goal of enabling the country to fend off the Taliban and al-Qaeda on its own."
  • How It Could Backfire  Wired's Spencer Ackerman warns, "With remarkable frequency, senior U.S. military officers have approached Hamid Karzai’s government and ask if they can set up some structure outside of the formal Afghan army and police to get local auxiliaries to pick up the security slack. And each time, the Karzai government balked, fearing an entrenchment or acceleration of Afghanistan’s warlords, power brokers and militias. Until Now. ... The fighters rallied to this new program are most likely to come from local power brokers, whose hold over remote parts of Afghanistan will be accordingly entrenched. Those power brokers won’t easily give up the source of that expanded power to army and police recruiters."
  • Modeled After Smaller, 'Mixed' Effort Last Year  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung and Rajiv Chandrasekaran explain, "U.S. military officials said the program would be modeled on a set of local defense units, called the Afghan Public Protection Police, created in the past year in Wardak province by U.S. Special Forces. That effort has achieved mixed results, several military sources said, but it has been regarded as the most palatable of the various local security initiatives pushed by the U.S. military because its members wear uniforms and report to the Interior Ministry."
  • 'Paying the Taliban'  Defense reporter Paul McLeary sighs, "So -- how will these new local security forces in Afghanistan be different from the untrained cops who steal from and abuse locals? ... [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said yesterday that 'We don’t have enough trainers to do the fundamental job here' to give them any training at all. ... In the end, we're essentially going to be paying the Taliban, right?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.