Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Days of the Living Dead

Mathieu Lefevre 3 min

I have just returned home after three weeks in Afghanistan doing research in Kabul and Kandahar on a forthcoming report for AAN on local defence forces. I’m just starting to work on the paper, but perhaps a few quick facts that I came across during my research might be of interest to readers of the AAN blog already now. By Mathieu Lefevre(*)

The first thing to note is that, amidst the confusion in Kabul about what ministry or directorate is in charge, how all this is financed and heated policy disagreements between – and within – embassies, several local defence forces are active in various parts of the country. From what I could gather, local defence is likely to be a significant feature of US strategy for 2010 and we can expect Afghans and others to follow the US lead on this issue. In fact, many Afghans and foreign diplomats see local defence groups as the job-creation component of a future re-integration program, very much one of the topics of the moment in Kabul.

The general idea of using local defence groups to supplement the ANA and ANP has been endorsed by the government at various levels (though President Karzai is still reportedly hesitant) and was formally discussed by the international community in the JCMB. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar is particularly keen on this – though senior police officers in his MoI are not at all) and has made this a ‘pillar’ of his new police strategy. IDLG and Aref Noorzai’s (not-yet-really-existing) Independent Directorate are also eager to get ‘in on the action’ although it is not clear what their role is on the ground. Interestingly, the Ministry of Defence has no interest in this at all.

Despite assurances from Kabul that the Afghan Police and IDLG are in charge, it is US Special Forces who are leading the Local Defence Initiatives (LDI) on the ground. Special Forces officers make quite a convincing case about ‘small is beautiful,’ village-level programs in places like Nagahan in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province. They think this can be quickly and effectively expanded elsewhere.

Arghandabi elders seem genuinely pleased with the results of their cooperation with US Special Forces on LDI. About 75 villagers work as full time neighbourhood watchmen and 9,000 people benefit from mostly cash-for-work development projects in the area. A small group of Special Forces lives nearby to keep an eye on things and help with training. The Arghandabis are particularly proud that ‘the Americans feel so safe that they drive around alone on motorcycles’. Other test balloons for LDI in places such as Nili (Daykundi province) and Achin (Nangrahar) seem to have had less positive results.

Wardak, chosen as a pilot for a large Afghan Public Protection Program (a.k.a. AP3, separate from LDI but also largely driven by US Special Forces) makes for a less rosy picture. I spoke to several Wardakis who found it hard to understand how Ghulam Mohammad, a former Taleban commander held in Bagram for two years has now been placed by the government at the head of a 1,200 man AP3 force to ‘protect’ them. When I asked local officials about the possibility that elements of the Taleban could infiltrate AP3, I got more than a few big grins as my only answer. There are lots of questions about AP3 in Wardak on issues such as selection, vetting, armament/disarmament, training, command and control. Officially, the program is a success but it will not be replicated in other provinces. Enough said.

An interesting aspect of this is how little has been done to learn from previous experiences. Given the size and cost of these programs, and what is at stake, this is astonishing. Afghan National Auxiliary Police, anyone? It seems that no solid post-mortem assessments was conducted on the 11,000-strong ANAP launched with bells and whistles in 2006 and abruptly shut down in 2008. Most people seem to think that ANAP was a disaster but is now ancient history and not worth looking into again.

Meanwhile, the AfPak Channel points to a Guardian report, also from Nagahan village in Arghandab (Jon Boone, ‘US keeps secret anti-Taliban militia on a bright leash’, see here), that says that Local Defense Initiative forces, ‘controversial local anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan’, must wear bright yellow reflective belts so they aren’t mistaken for Taliban by U.S. Special Forces.

(*) Mathieu Lefevre worked as a political officer for UNAMA until recently, with the latest posting at its Zabul provincial office, followed by research in Afghanistan in cooperation with AAN.

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US Kabul

Authors:

Mathieu Lefevre

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