Is the new Afghan Local Police one of the new silver bullets for successful transition or just a new militia? General Petraeus who designed the programme (after a similar one in Iraq) claims the first while some media already see abuses, as signs for the latter. But until recently, reports about such ‘ALP abuses’ were difficult to double-check, simply because a lack of transparency about where such units already had been established. Now AAN has been provided with the list of districts where ALP already is existing and where planned. Thomas Ruttig, AAN Senior Analyst, looks at the lists and discusses concerns about the ALP.
‘This [the Afghan Local Police, ALP] is an important program because no one protects their home like a homeowner and this really mobilizes a community’, General David Petraeus, until recently the commander of all US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, was quoted by the PR wing of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (see here
) on 10 July 2011. Petraeus is the creator of the ALP which he shaped according to his ‘Sons of Iraq’ (aka Awakening Councils) programme.
‘Where we have them trained and fully employed the Taliban is not re-emerging,’ Army Brig. Gen. Jefforey [sic] Smith, an assistant commanding general at the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan told USA Today
(30 June 2011, read this report here
At the same time, a number of international and Afghan media filed reports about ‘local defence forces’, sometimes described as ALP, showing ‘inhuman behaviour’, illegally collecting ‘Islamic’ taxes and breaking into houses (see annex 1). These reports have been rejected both by US forces and Afghan officials. ‘This is not ALP’, they argued.
So far, however, a lack of transparency about where exactly ALP units have been established, or are scheduled to be established, has prevented that one was able to double-checking such reports. It had been impossible to say whether the accused units or commanders belong to ‘real’ or ‘fake’, i.e. self-declared, un-authorised ALP – a distinction made by UNAMA (find it quoted in one of our earlier blog entries
Among the journalists and even Afghan officials, the terminology is not clear as well. They have difficulties in understanding the difference between ALP (polis-e mahalli), arbaki (a concept much inflated beyond its Loya Paktia origins where it has been a temporary enforcer of jirga decisions) and all kind of other self-declared community defence forces. NATO/ISAF and the Afghan government have contributed to this by either organizing or ‘authorising’ all kinds of neo-militias – LDI, APPP, APPF, arbaki and, of late, ISCI (groups responsible for ‘interim security for critical infrastructure‘ (more than 30 active in Marja)*, road maintenance teams (French-supported units in Kapisa) etc. Sometimes, these units have morphed into each other, like the APPP in Wardak that have become ALP now in four districts.
But now AAN has been provided with a fact-sheet of the Afghan MoI that contains a list (see annex 2) of 43 districts (including three provincial centres, Pul-e Khumri of Baghlan, Kunduz city and Maidanshahr of Wardak) in 16 provinces where, by 15 July, that have been ‘validated’ by the Afghan government – ‘in conjunction with the counsel‘ of Western forces – for the establishment of ALP units. Two new districts had just been added by the second half of July: Baghlan-e Jadid and Marja in Helmand.
The 43 districts are included in a MoI-confirmed tashkil (structural chart) that foresees the establishment of ALP in altogether 77 districts with 10,000 personnel. Theoretically, each district can have up to 30 ALP men ‘in 10-15 villages’.
According to General Ali Sher Ahmadzai who heads the MoI ALP department, there were 6.549 ALP members active already in 41 districts on 16 July, and the tashkil would go up to 22,825 if ALP in all 77 districts planned so far will have been implemented. Indeed, the fact-sheet says that ‘[t]he number of ALP will likely grow’ beyond the 77 since ‘any other [districts] that request these defensive forces in the future’ might be additionally included.
Gen. Petraeus has also stated before he left the country for his new job at the top of the CIA that the ALP ‘will increase from 10 to 15 thousand’, also according to DVIDS, 10 July 2011 (see here
). Gen. Smith, already quoted above, said according to USA Today
(30 June 2011) that ‘Afghan and coalition officials recently approved a plan that would allow the local forces to grow as large as 30,000’ (read full report here
). Petraeus also mentioned this figure in other interviews.
The MoI fact sheet also explains the ALP’s ‘concept of operations’ and the ‘authority’ ALP units can exercise. ALP is purely ‘Afghan-conducted, Coalition-supported’, ‘defensive, community-oriented’ and ‘[t]heir activity is restricted to the area required for the defense of their own village’ (a formulation a bit fluffy – why not say ‘to their village’?). And: ‘The ALP are subject to the same rules and regulations as the ANP’, have ‘detention but no arrest authority’.
ALP has ‘incorporated previous, similar village and district defensive programmes’. It will be supervised by the Deputy District CoP, its members vetted by the provincial security teams, comprising ANA, ANP, NDS, IDLG/ASOP and coalition forces. Upon the end of the programme (which is based on one-year service contracts), ‘qualified members will be eligible for integration into the ANSF’. Why not integrate them into the ANP in the first place?
ALP also ‘is not designed as a tool for reintegration of former insurgents’. Whereas, actually, the Sons of Iraq were composed of former insurgents.
ALP is ‘initially’ assisted by the US Special Operations Forces (USSOF). This is much less then what we heard initially: It has been said – and reported in the media – that all ALP units will have embedded SOF to keep them under direct control. But apparently the appetite for ALP growth, which is not only Afghan – see Petraeus’ quote above – has already diluted the originally stricter criteria for oversight. ‘Over time, other Coalition units will partner with ALP units as the growth rate exceeds USSOF capacity’, the MoI paper says which, I have the feeling when I read the language, is actually a US-authored paper; it also – like here – expresses US interests.
First, the MoI list now has enabled us to check whether the reports of alleged misconduct indeed refer to ALP units. According to the list, this would only be the case for Arghandab (Kandahar) only in our collection of media reports.
Apart from this, two further reports of ALP misconduct have been reported, one from Shahabuddin where one ALP commander had – well – arrested (or detained?) another ALP commander. We have written about this ALP early on (see blogs here
) which, by the way, is a case where ALP has been used for the reintegration of former insurgents, namely HIG fighters. In another case, reported to AAN by local inhabitants, an ALP unit had been established by a well-known commander, without the required involvement of a shura
The Baghlan and Zabul cases have been confirmed by Gen Ahmadzai who has personally taken swift action on both. In the Zabul case, he told us that he has disbanded the ALP unit personally. And in the case of Baghlan (Shahabuddin), he has summoned the perpetrator to Kabul HQ and said he would be punished.
Apart from contradictions when it comes to reintegration, it is mainly the ALP expansion beyond the Special Forces realm where the cats bites its own tail and where, therefore, our concerns begin – assuming that the Special Forces are really those brilliant guys who can keep an ALP unit under strict control. Won’t there be a danger that the ostensibly strict criteria for ALP are diluted when other units come in that might be soon withdrawn? If the MoI factsheet speaks about former similar initiatives to be incorporated into ALP: Will this happen to (some of) the 30 ISCI units in Marja about which there have been reports of abuse, with the district just been approved for ALP?
That makes ALP disbandment a major concern. What happens when their temporary contracts run out? What happens with the weapons distributed and what with ALP members who do not qualify for the ANP? Do Petraeus and his successors really believe that the shuras that nominally have vetted the ALP members will be able to tell to go home again? Will they be satisfied with what had been offered during DDR and DIAG – a bag of wheat and a few farm tools? Have we ever seen militias disbanding in Afghanistan, under conditions where the AK-47 often is the only means of income generating?
Another concern would be situations in which ALP and ANP operate in the same area; already now we hear about jealousies about resources. What happens if two commanders with a strong ego clash – as in the Shahabuddin case – and the deputy district chief of police, usually not the most influential of all positions, is unable to intervene? Will Gen. Ahmadzai always be the trouble-shooter?
And all this can happen in a situation where US and other forces – who now are authorised to adopt ‘their’ own ALPs – are actually about to be withdrawn. As Astri Suhrke describes what she expects Afghanistan will look like after transition in her new book that will be out soon**: ‘a large number of men with arms, but weak institutions’. After transition, this will be Afghan security responsibility.
‘According to a local former from Gowl Daman area (Imam Saheb district), the Arbakis turned to him and asked for zakat. When he rejected to give it, he faced serious threats; therefore he has no option apart from paying the zakat. Other Kunduzi farmers [also] claim that arbakis are threatening them to pay zakat. Meanwhile Gholam Hazrat […] said the residents are willingly help local police.’
8am daily, Kabul, 6 June 2011
‘Ghulam Hazrat should be a poster boy for the peaceful reintegration of insurgents who want to switch sides. Six months ago he was a Taliban commander in the troubled Imam Sahib district of northern Kunduz Province. Now he and 10 of his followers are in the process of becoming [local] police officers, at which point the government will start paying them salaries. In the meantime, however, Mr. Hazrat is raising money the same way he did as a Taliban commander, by imposing an “Islamic tax” on people in his district. “The government is telling me to fight the Taliban and protect your area so we must ask people for help in order to take care of myself and my friends,” he said in an interview. He and other militiamen […] insist that people give the money voluntarily.
‘Dozens of residents from Pestah Mazar village (Sayad district, Sarepul) accuse local police of inhuman behavior and doing harm. According to Pestah Mazar village inhabitants, more than 200 families fled their homes due to assaults by local police. The inhabitants further insist that a local police commander called Sayyed Ma’ruf (who has renounced violence [i.e. a former Taleb] and joined the local police unit with the support of the provincial police chief) uses different pretexts to disturb local residents in the village. Meanwhile the chief of Sarepol provincial council, Muhammad Aref Sharifi, mentioned that “those residents who came to Sarepul police headquarters in order to register their allegations, have been arrested by the police. It is four days now that they are in police custody’, he added. Meanwhile, Sarepul chief of police refutes the allegations of the residents and the provincial council: “The reason that four inhabitants of Pestah Mazar village are in police custody is to get more details.”’
8am daily, Kabul, 13 June 2011
The ‘1,150 trained local police or “arbaki”’ in Marja (Helmand) ‘has hit controversy and been scaled back over allegations of infighting and illegal taxation. […] “Some of those who joined the arbaki are using it to settle scores with their family members. They tell the US and ANA (Afghan army) that they are Taliban and should be arrested,” said Haji Abdul Rasoul, a Shinghazak resident. Local farmer Baar Jan, in his 20s, said the arbaki confiscated mobile phones. “And they sometimes demand money,” he said. One group of elders recently complained that their commander was withholding wages and threatened to quit unless an alternative leader was installed.’
‘Local inhabitants from Dand-e Ghori district (Baghlan) claim that local police uses its power to disturb residents. The head of the local council, Amer Aslam, says local police appointments should have been done with the consultation of residents, adding that ‘no one seeks our consultant in this regard and weapons have been given to irresponsible individuals.’
8am daily, Kabul, 19 June 2011
‘Residents and officials warn that the rush to recruit local defence forces around Kandahar following the arrival of last year’s surge of American troops had given rise to poorly-controlled armed gangs. […] Arzomand Sab, a 55-year-old farmer from Arghandab district of Kandahar, told the Daily Telegraph a militia of 55 men had been recruited in January to patrol his village, and three others. “Their main job is to prevent the insurgents from entering the area, but they don’t do their job, they just beat people and insult people and make problems for us,” he said. He said the ALP had been recruited along tribal lines by Kandahar’s former police chief and had recently beaten up a trader and mullah from other tribes, causing villagers to protest at their brutality. He said they had so far kept insurgents from his village, but were alienating the residents. […]”If there were no Americans in the area, these people would steal our turbans.”
‘A dweller in Arabha [v]illage of Chardara district in condition of anonymity said: ”Arbaki have doubled our problems. […] Afghan Local Police or Arbaki sometimes force people of the province to pay them their harvests’ [z]akat/tenth and Arbaki get involved in people’s transaction[s,] including selling and buying of houses, [l]and, commodities and animals.’
In addition, a woman who declined to be named said: ‘Arbaki damage our secure life, every day they enter our houses[,] asking money and food and they threaten us if we refuse to provide them with food and money.
“Every day armed clashes take place in the valley, usually the armed clashes occur among the Arbaki so that people suffer damages from such clashes[,]” said one [inhabitant] of Aqtaash valley. (…)
Habibullah[,] a local police commander in northern K[u]nduz[,] rejected all assertions as baseless[:] “People who make these kinds of claims want to defame Arbaki”.)
Annex 2: ALP district list
tashkil: 77 districts (not clear by when to be completed, depending on US financial inflow)
Existing: 39 districts plus 2 prov centres
plus newly established/to be established soon: Baghlan-e Jadid and Marja
Baghlan-e Jadid (just inaugurated)
Marja (to be established)
Shah Wali Kot
Shahid Hassas (Charchino)
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020