It is now six months since funding for Afghanistan’s oldest and largest community defence force, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) ended, and three months since the force should have been wound up. The early stages of the disbandment went badly, as we reported in October. The government was late in making preparations and failed to communicate what plans it did have to members of the ALP and the communities in which they were deployed. It succeeded in seeding anxiety and denting the morale of those in the field. In this follow-up report, we have found that the transfer of most ALP to either the Afghan National Police or Afghan National Army Territorial Force has largely been accomplished, a feat in itself, given the severity of the conflict. Yet, in only two of the eleven districts surveyed for this report did people report security had not worsened as a result of the transition. Kate Clark reports, with research also by Sayed Asadullah Sadat, Obaid Ali, Rohullah Suroush and Ehsan Qaane.A member of the ALP in Helmand’s Nad Ali district, who had defended their communities, holding the line against the Taleban, who were in villages only a few hundred metres away, until one month after this picture was taken, the Taleban surged toward Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkargah and this man’s unit was forced to withdraw. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2016.
- Almost all ALP are now disbanded, with about 12,000 so far enrolled in the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army Territorial Forces (ANA-TF), the local branch of the ANA where soldiers serve in their own districts. There was no mass collapse in security or defections to the Taleban.
- Transition took place at the district level with ALP joining either the ANP or ANA-TF and in some cases, commanders transferring with their men (in the case of the ANA-TF against the rules).
- Given the short time frame (self-inflicted by the government’s lack of preparedness) and need to carry out a transition during wartime, dealing with the ALP in this way was the only practical option. There were potential benefits and risks to this course of action: units of local men can be highly-motivated to defend their own areas and/or liable for co-option by criminal, factional or ethnic interests.
- Those who transferred were vetted and enrolled into the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS), with biometrics taken to confirm identities; this meant there were no transfers of ‘ghost’ ALP, who existed only on paper and with salaries pocketed by seniors. Many districts reported ghost ALP being uncovered during the transition (though some questions about numbers in the tashkil The tashkil is the authorised strength, the numbers and ranks or personnel in a force, department or ministry. remain).
- In a survey of eleven districts, the experience of transition varied widely, but in just two did interviewees report that security was the same or improved. In six districts, interviewees reported that checkposts were abandoned and territory lost because of the transition, although this was questioned by officials who suggested it is part of a strategic shift which has consolidated some rural territory.
- In many districts, concerns were voiced about the ALP who had not transferred – who were above the age limit or the tashkil was full – who are now jobless, and may also be under threat from the Taleban.
- While Afghanistan’s oldest experiment in ‘leveraging’ communities to fight the Taleban is over, the mass transfer of personnel into the ANP and ANA-TF means something of the legacy of the ALP will live on Afghanistan’s armed forces. The ultimate consequences – positive and negative – of the end of the ALP for security will only become clear in the months ahead.
Why disbanding the ALP would always be problematic
When it was disbanded, there were an estimated 18,000 ALP mobilised at the village level throughout rural Afghanistan, in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces. The government had known for well over a year that ALP funding would end on 30 September 2020 following a decision by the United States Congress, which authorises US defence spending (the US was the ALP’s sole funder). Yet only in the summer of 2020 did Kabul draw up plans, with the support of Resolute Support, to dissolve the ALP. Such a large force could not just be disbanded. That would have left gaps in existing security, as well as creating thousands of newly-unemployed armed men. Given ALP were mobilised as units of commanders and men loyal to them, there was a fear some could just ‘re-hat’ as Taleban or criminal gangs. This has happened before. A plan was therefore formulated to keep most within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), with a third to join the Afghan National Police (ANP), a third to join the relatively new local defence force, the Afghan National Army Territorial Force (ANA-TF) and a third to be retired.
The ALP have always been a mixed bag. In some instances, local men defending their own people and territory have proved a highly effective and motivated force, particularly if they have the support of the community and it has some control over them. In other places, as one former Ministry of Defence (MoD) official said, “security was not [the ALP’s] priority,” but rather, he said, drug-smuggling or mobilisation on ethnic grounds. The worst ALP have been corrupt and rapacious, tied to powerbrokers and/or criminal, ethnic, tribal or factional interests and able to commit crimes with impunity. However, even in such instances, civilians might still say that such ALP also fought the Taleban effectively.
Fully disbanding the ALP carried risks, but transferring ALP into the ANSF was also a gamble, although one with potential benefits. Whatever was good about the ALP in a particular location would likely be imported into the ANP or ANA-TF, but also whatever was bad.
In September 2020, we carried out research on what had come to be called the ‘ALP transition’ (report published in early October). In interviews carried out with ALP commanders and fighters, district and provincial officials and other civilians in 19 districts, we found just one district – Shajoy in Zabul – where the transition of the ALP was underway. In the main, the government had largely failed to communicate to ALP and the communities in which they served what was happening. ALP and civilians were generally anxious and suspected the government of abandoning them.
At that time, we were told that the plans for the transition would involve selecting and then vetting, training and transferring two-thirds of the ALP into the ANP and ANA-TF, and retiring and disarming the rest. Those transferred would need to be vetted and be enrolled onto the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS), which meant having their biometrics taken to confirm their identities; this also meant there would be no transfer of ‘ghost’ ALP, who existed only on paper and whose salaries were pocketed by individuals higher up in the hierarchy. We reported then that the approach appeared to be about dealing with individuals, rather than moving ALP as units into the ANA-TF or ANP. We relayed some of the problems voiced by the planners, that gaps in the ANA-TF and ANP tashkils might not match where potential ex-ALP recruits were, nor their skills, experience or ranks. There was also the hurdle of transforming a village-based force to ones organised at the district level. Because ALP were based in their own villages, transferring them, especially to the ANA-TF whose soldiers live in barracks, would mean them having to leave – as some saw it – their families and homes unprotected.
Transferring ALP into the ANA-TF, in particular, was always going to be controversial. The MoD had been allergic to the very idea of setting up this locally-recruited arm of the ANA when President Ashraf Ghani first proposed it in 2017. Officers feared the new force would be an ‘ALP mark 2’, a set of unruly local militias seeded into the relatively well-disciplined ranks of the regular ANA. Those tasked with setting up the ANA-TF at the MoD and Resolute Support (RS) worked to create a model with the potential to harness the benefits of a well-motivated local force, but which, as one of the MoD planners said, would turn “all the mistakes of the ALP” into safeguards (see AAN’s special report on the ANA-TF). Accepting ALP into ANA ranks was always going to be a bitter pill for the MoD to swallow.
How the new research was carried out
To look at how the transition has played out since our research in the autumn, we carried out a fresh round of interviews with military men and civilians in January and February 2021. We went back to some of the 19 districts where we had interviewed people previously, as well as others where AAN has conducted research on local defence forces in the past and some new ones. We spoke to people in eleven districts: five in Loya Paktia and its environs – Jaji Maidan in Khost, Zurmat, Jaji (Zazi Ariub) and Chamkani in Paktia and Baraki Barak in Logar; two districts in central Afghanistan – Jaghori in Ghazni, which is Hazara but borders Pashtun areas, and Jalrez in Wardak, which is mixed ethnically and; four districts in the northeast – Chahardara and Qala-ye Zal in Kunduz, Dasht-e Qala in Takhar and Jurm in Badakhshan. In total, we interviewed eleven former members of the ALP, mainly commanders; seven other security officials, mainly ANP; six government officials (mainly district governors) and; 17 civilians, a mix of elders, provincial council members, civilian society activists, journalists and other professionals (39 men and two women). We also interviewed one civilian official at Resolute Support and two former Ministry of Defence officials who had responsibilities for the ALP transition. Some interviewees are named. Where they are not, it is because they asked not to be. The MoI declined to give an interview, and a spokesperson gave only a few very brief written answers, which were of little use or relevance. Some information has also come from the US’s Special Inspector for General Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), although its most recent quarterly report covers the last three months of 2020, so is somewhat out of date.
Before looking at the eleven districts in detail, this paper first pulls together some of the broad themes emerging from the case studies and the interviews with officials. Then, following the case studies, are assessments of two issues: how the transition has affected ANSF force strength and how various safeguards were either complied with or ignored during the transition.
The ALP plan in action: themes emerging from the research
Afghanistan is in a period of flux when the commitment of its main donor and military supporter has been in question and US president Joe Biden has just announced his decision to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by September. It is a year in which any number of scenarios can be imagined, most of them bad. Completing a major transition of security forces, especially of always somewhat problematic local defence forces at such a time and when the conflict is so fierce, is an achievement in its own right. As of today, the disbanding of the ALP has not led to the worst scenarios envisaged, that is, the mass switching of ALP to the Taleban, or a collapse of security in multiple districts, so in this sense, the transition has been a success. That having been said, the government had eighteen months to plan and carry out this transition: leaving it till the last minute inevitably created unnecessary problems on the ground and left the new constellation of government forces weaker than it might have been. The delay in planning, coming up against the hard deadline set by Congress, squeezed the time available for the transition, but also meant it happened during the winter, the least worst time to carry it out given the cold and snowy weather always subdues the fighting. The real security test will come in the months ahead as the weather warms and fighting, if it follows the normal patterns of the Afghan conflict, intensifies.
In only two of the eleven districts we surveyed did interviewees report that security had stayed the same or improved. The experience of transition was highly variable. At one end of the spectrum were Jaji Maidan in Khost and Jaghori in Ghazni, where the ex-ALP were absorbed into an existing reasonably strong constellation of ANSF (in both cases, ALP became ANA-TF) and there is popular support for the government and the security forces. Jalrez in Wardak has had a very different experience; ALP there have been stood down, but not yet replaced, with the security vacuum partly filled by ALP staying on, a small deployment of ANP from a neighbouring province, the community fundraising for its own local defence force, and what looks to be a half-strength ANA-TF company gradually coming online. In Baraki Barak in Logar, the very announcement of the disbandment caused a slump in ALP morale and its disintegration before transition could even begin. In Jurm in Badakhshan, locals reported some ALP were still active as ALP, but it was hard, anyway, to tell the difference between the various armed men who were loyal to different provincial powerbrokers and appeared in various guises – still extant ALP, pro-government militiamen and Uprising Forces. The latter, backed by the NDS, receive less support than the ALP, ANP or ANA and are also subject to less oversight. (For an overview of Uprising Forces, see pages 39-40 of a 2019 AAN special report, “Ghosts of the Past: Lessons from Local Force Mobilisation in Afghanistan and Prospects for the Future”).
In almost all of the eleven districts we surveyed, our interviewees described the bulk of the ALP going to either the ANP or the ANA-TF, and in one instance, an ALP commander transferred to head up the district’s Uprising Forces with some of the district’s ALP. Planners had initially thought ALP might be dealt with as individuals, but that would probably always have been impractical, even if the timeframe had been longer. The former MoD officials interviewed said that, in some places, ALP had filled gaps in the ANA-TF tashkil. More often, ALP from a particular district have formed entirely new companies within both the ANA-TF and ANP. Which branch of the ANSF former ALP in a district might end up in was determined, said the two ex-MoD officials, after an assessment by MoD, MoI and US military officials of both the effectiveness of the ALP in each district and the security risk posed by transition. They said ALP members were also consulted on what they wanted to do: in some provinces, for example, Kunduz and Takhar, in no district did ALP want to join the ANA-TF (confirmed by our interviewees), whereas in Paktia, the ALP in only some of the districts did; others preferred the ANP.
The proportion of former ALP reported to have moved into the ANSF in the different districts varied from 100 per cent in Qala-ye Zal in Kunduz to about half in two other districts in the north-east, mostly those ‘with connections’, according to two former ALP (one with a job in the ANP and the other now jobless). The proportions of ALP transitioning may not be trustworthy, given how many ghosts appear to have been on the books, confirmed by the former MoD and RS officials and many of the interviewees in the districts, who spoke of how transition had uncovered ghost ALP in the ranks. Interviewees everywhere reported some ‘winnowing’ of the ALP’s ranks, with those too old (over 44) or with bad conduct or criminal records not eligible for transfer. In some districts where there were too many ALP for the local ANP and ANA-TF to absorb, ALP might be offered posts in neighbouring districts. Along with older men, they might also be offered a place in Uprising Forces where they existed. In some of the districts under study, the transition may have left several dozen ex-ALP now unemployed. There is an official programme at the Ministry of Interior to try to find ‘alternative livelihoods’ for former ALP, but no interviewee mentioned this.
Despite the experience of transition varying across the eleven districts under study, several themes emerged. In six of the eleven districts, former ALP and civilians or security officials reported that when ALP were withdrawn from checkposts, they were allowed to fall to the Taleban and territory was lost. Asking two former MoD officials about this, they saw it more as a deliberate consolidation of government checkposts and bases, as one said:
We went through… and evaluated all of them: What is the reason for this checkpost or base – to protect people, is it strategic, is it for drug trafficking, or [because of] local interests? Some had been set up to protect RS forces [who are no longer there]. Also, there cannot be five ANA soldiers in one checkpost [as some ALP posts had been manned]. They have to be able to protect themselves. There should not be less than 15 soldiers…. Some checkposts only had one person was there! We couldn’t have that.
Such a consolidation had also long been pushed by RS. The official at RS whom we interviewed thought the overall picture on checkposts changing hands was too complex to point to any correlation with the ALP transition: “We’re seeing checkpoints changing hands for different reasons, some ex-ALP, but also ANA and ANP.” A security expert with insight nationally also said they had not picked up any pattern correlating ALP disbanding with the loss of territory. Even so, as the district case studies show, many interviewees were troubled by the way they felt the transition had helped the Taleban in their district, allowing fighters, as the district governor of Chamkani said, to “move freely” now that “those areas are under [their] control.” The former Chamkani ALP-now-ANP commander also said that: “The government has lost control of the villages. The enemy operates there whenever they want and use the villages to attack the ANP.”
For members of the ALP themselves if territory is abandoned, it can mean their own villages falling to the Taleban. Several interviewees said they or their families had been forced to flee because of territory lost because of the transition. For individuals, joining the ALP was always a risk. Mobilising local men to fight other local men is inherently dangerous for the men involved, given they may make mortal enemies, an issue we explored in a 2018 report, “Enemy Number One: How the Taleban deal with the ALP and uprising groups”. This was a hazard not factored in by those setting up the ALP, or the ANA-TF, but it makes the current situation potentially dangerous for ALP, particularly those not integrated into the ANA-TF, ANP or Uprising Forces, and especially if they are pressurised to disarm. Several interviewees, both former ALP and not, expressed fears over what happens to ex-ALP who are now out of work or unable to return home, as well as dismay at how they had been ‘abandoned’ by the government. “They performed their duties in hard times,” said Baryalai, “but now the government pays no attention to them” said District Chief of Police in Chamkani, Paktia, Baryalai, “but now the government pays no attention to them.”
In several districts, interviewees expressed a dread at the arrival of spring when passes open and the Taleban would be able to return and operate in force, given their assessment that the transition has weakened security. In others, it should be noted, interviewees thought the ALP had been of little use. One elder in Paktia said life was more peaceful now the ALP had left, posts had been abandoned and the Taleban were in full control of his area.
From our small sample it is impossible to say whether the transition was more likely to be successful if ALP went to the ANP or ANA-TF. Instead, what comes across is just how various local circumstances are in Afghanistan, how security is determined partly by how the population feels about the government, the ANSF and the Taleban, as well as how strong the Taleban are, how well or badly-behaved, or indeed abusive the ALP has been, and what is the overall make-up of pro-government forces. The portraits show how local circumstances can be improved or undermined by decisions at the centre and also how decision-making can feel a very long way away. Besides detailing the ALP transition locally, the accounts that follow are vivid glimpses of life during wartime. They reveal just how much pressure many of those serving or living on or near frontlines are under and how greatly some are dreading the coming year. (Force numbers given were as accurate as could be in January and February 2021 when interviews took place, but may have changed subsequently; in some places, different interviewees, including officials, gave different numbers).
The eleven case studies
Two districts with a successful transition
In only two of the 11 districts surveyed did interviewees report that the disbanding of the ALP had gone well and that security was unaffected, or had improved. The first was Jaghori district in Ghazni province,whichused to have a 200-strong ALP. Those meeting the age requirements have been transferred to the ANA-TF. A former ALP squad leader who is now in the ANA-TF said 120 men were transferred, forming an additional ANA-TF company, meaning Jaghori now had three. “The fate of the other 60 persons is unclear,” he said, although he thought six or seven had joined the ANP and a further 20 may have left the ALP before it disbanded.
Jaghori and neighbouring Malestan were the focus of a Taleban onslaught in 2018 and the regular ANA battalion deployed to take back territory then has remained and is “vital for security,” said provincial council member Fatima Rahimi. There is also a 300-strong Uprising Force. The fruit of genuine popular mobilisation during the 2018 onslaught, the Uprising Force has since received government support. Finally, the NDS has a 50-strong NDS unit (mufriza).
The ALP to ANA-TF transition, said Rahimi, “hasn’t had much effect on security – it remains good.” A former ALP commander, Sayed Jaffar Mousavi, who has also served in the ANP, but chose not to join the ANA-TF “for personal reasons” said the ALP transition had gone well, but the overall 1,300-strong tashkil of security forces in the district was too small for Jaghori. The former ALP squad leader agreed:
It’s good that 120 ALP have merged into the ANA-TF, but the overall strength of the forces has been reduced. There are now are only eight to nine soldiers at each post and for some posts, only six or seven. This does have an impact on the morale of these soldiers. Especially in this cold weather, when they’re guarding an area, each soldier has to stand on duty at his post for a long time. And if the enemy attacks, it will be worse because we don’t have enough soldiers to fight.
In Jaji Maidan in Khost, which borders Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), former ALP and now ANA-TF commander Major Abdullah Sargand and member of the provincial council Janmir reported that 120 of the150 ALP had joined the ANA-TF after their biometrics were taken and they had received military training. Of the remaining 30 men, some were too old to join the Territorial Force or were barred because, the two interviewees said, they had misused their authority or committed crimes. Others failed to make it into the district ANA-TF tashkil because it was already complete and were “introduced to other districts,” said Sargand. However, he said they preferred not to move.
“There has been no change to security,” said provincial council member Janmir. “There was no vacuum and so no space for the Taleban.” Sargand said supplies had improved now that he and his men fell under the Ministry of Defence, rather than the Ministry of Interior, and they had also been given new equipment. Janmir also pointed to the importance of having an array of government forces in the district, suggesting it had never depended solely on the ALP. There were two border police companies, one regular ANA and now one ANA-TF company, 100 ANP (in the district centre only), a 100-strong Popular Uprising Force (under the command of two retired ANA generals, Azizullah and Haji Bismillah) and 100 arbaki (a tribal force) operating under the control of the elders. Most importantly, he said, was that “the tribal structures and jirgas are still intact and are effective for securing the district. Local people support the government. They all have guns and will protect their territory if necessary. And the elders can mobilise.” Sarghand echoed this: “Everyone has a gun in their homes. When required, the elders can gather thousands of people and tell them to stand up against the enemy and defend their areas. This has happened several times.”
In all the other districts featuring in this report, the end of the ALP has been problematic to a greater or lesser degree, with some interviewees reporting that it has been disastrous.
A district where transition left a security vacuum
The one district where we conducted interviews where the ALP had been disbanded, but transition was nowhere near complete was Jalrez in Wardak. It lies west of provincial capital Maidan Wardak, a significant district on the highway to Bamyan. It also lies on the borders of Hazarajat and different ethnic groups – Hazara/Sayyed, Pashtun and Tajik – live there. Given the history of ethnic mobilisation in Afghanistan, this means that Jalrez has often found itself split by frontlines and factions. Control is currently divided between the Taleban and government. The around 120-strong ALP had been providing security in government-controlled areas but, confirmed a provincial council member, was disbanded on 1 January 2020, with promises from the government of an ANA-TF company in its stead. A local journalist said that by February, the ANA-TF had allocated just 40 soldiers to the new ANA-TF tashkil, with various interviewees saying 65 were planned (which would be half a company).
Most of the interviewees said there were no regular ANA in Jalrez district, but one said there were 18 soldiers and another that there had been 50 in September 2020. In addition, there are about 20 ANP and smaller numbers of NDS in the district centre. In other words, the 120 ALP were a significant part of government forces. 70 ALP had been deployed to the Sarcheshma area. When they were disbanded, the MoI made a temporary deployment of a small group of ANP from neighbouring Hesa-ye Awal Behsud district. They were attacked on 8 January by Taleban from the Takana area of Jalrez and two of their number killed. The other 50 ALP, deployed to the district centre and the Sanglakht area were still on duty, an elder in the district centre reported to ANA, although he said “I don’t know if the government is paying them.”
The local journalist told AAN in January that locals were then raising money to fund a small temporary Uprising Force to fill the security gap before the promised ANA-TF arrived. The MoD did finally begin to establish the ANA-TF company in Sarcheshma in early February. It appointed as commander Reza Khandadash, who had been in charge of the ALP in the Zaiwalat area of Jalrez before the mass killing of ALP by Taleban there in 2014. A small number of ANA-TF soldiers, newly-trained in Kabul, were deployed. Winter was the least bad time for the transition given the nature of fighting in Jalrez, said the local journalist:
Taleban usually have two types of attacks. The most common is small and doesn’t have a huge impact on expanding their territory. They happen all the time, even during winter. The second type of attack is large and is aimed at gaining territory or control over major military checkpoints. It needs a greater number of fighters who must come together from other parts of the district or even from other districts. In the winter because of the cold and snow, travel is hard; even staying for a long time in one place is hard.
Interviewees speaking in January 2021 said winter had prevented the Taleban from taking advantage on a major scale of the security vacuum left by the disbanding of the ALP. The deployment of very limited forces during the transition had left them vulnerable to attack. As with the ANP deployment from Hesa-ye Awal Behsud in January, the ANA-TF soldiers sent to Sarcheshma also came under Taleban attack, in the last week of February. Four soldiers were killed and two wounded and the Taleban took control of the main checkpost on the road to Bamyan in the area which is located at Asya-ye Khakbad on the border between Sarcheshma and Taleban-controlled Takana. A local civilian reported that one of the soldiers was killed as he stood fighting at his post, even as it was overrun by the Taleban, while the other three had shot dead by a sniper. He held the government responsible for “this bloody incident.” The substitute forces deployed during the transition, he said, were inadequate, too small to protect themselves. They had not been supplied with appropriate weapons and had been left short of ammunition.
Interviewees in Jalrez were worried about what would happen in spring when the passes open and the weather warms, given the ALP has still not been replaced, they said, with adequate substitute forces.
Three districts where transition was not too bad – except for reportedly abandoned checkposts
In Chamkani district, Paktia, former ALP and now ANP officer Juma Gul said that out of the 250 ALP, 20 ALP were retired and 230 absorbed into the ANP. “We continue our duties in the ANP,” he said, “just our name and uniform has changed.” District chief of police Baryalai gave somewhat different figures, but his overall picture was similar: 212 former ALP had become ANP. Juma Gul said ‘the government’ now paid them more attention, supplies were better and they had better equipment. Ghosts had been removed from their ranks, he said: the biometric system of registration had made them impossible. The ALP-turned-ANP were “now present at their checkpoints and doing their duties well.” They had to “obey the law and instructions that come from security officials – if any of us violates the regulations, we will face penalties and even prosecution. Previously, everyone was able to do whatever he wanted.” The new ANP have fitted into a district with two ANA battalions (one about to leave), border police and 170 Uprising Forces, which interviewees said are not so popular. This all seems good, except Juma Gul said that when the ALP became ANP, checkposts were abandoned.
The presence of ALP was good because they knew the area and the Taleban were afraid of them. Even if there were five ALP members in a post, the Taleban thought their numbers were more and they feared them.
District governor Abdul Rahman Zurmati detailed what posts were lost:
For example, there is an area called Madkhel between Janikhel and Chamkanai districts. Previously, ALP were present in this area and prevented the Taleban from coming from Janikhel district. Currently… they can move freely… [and] those areas are under the control of the Taleban.
For the ALP members themselves, the loss of these areas has meant they can no longer go home, said Juma Gul:
In the past, we were active in the village and the enemy was unable to operate in our area. Now, the situation has changed. The government has lost control of the villages. The enemy operates there whenever they want and uses the villages to attack the ANP.
District chief of police Baryalai said the ALP-turned ANP whose homes were in remote or rural areas had had to bring their families to the district centre because their areas were now under Taleban control. However, at least, he said, these ex-ALP are “armed and not in danger.” Contrast them, he said, to the 58 former ALP who had been let go: “They can’t go home because it is too dangerous for them.” Instead, he said, these men were staying in the district centre police headquarters. He had discussed their fate with the provincial chief of police, who said the ‘system’ at the centre had registered them as civilians and there was nothing he could do. “They performed their duties in hard times,” said Baryalai, “but now the government pays no attention to them.” Better to also recruit them into the ANP, he said, which would also help bolster security. District governor Abdul Rahman Zurmati also said he wanted these men in the ANP, especially as he looked ahead to spring:
So far, the dissolution of ALP has not made any specific changes because it was winter. There wasn’t much fighting to endanger the security of the district. It will be clear in the spring… what will happen, but as far as we know, the opposition is preparing for a war in the spring.
Zazai Ariub district, also in Paktia, is important militarily because of its border with Pakistan and routes into Afghanistan, to Logar, Nangarhar, Khost, Paktika and the centre of Paktia. All Taleban supplies are transited through this district, a former ALP commander told AAN “and they are trying to take it over.”
He said 270 of the 350 ALP have been recruited into the ANA-TF and that the remaining 80 had been ‘ghosts’ or chosen not to join. “Some of the 270 people are currently on duty in the district,” he said, “and some are still in training.” He was one of those who had had their biometric tests, but were not yet appointed to a position. This meant, he said, they could not go to their homes areas “because of threats.” Those now in post, he said, were well-supplied by the MoD, but had not yet received their salaries. He said that all the areas that had been under ALP control were ceded to the Taleban when the ALP was disbanded.
Zazai Ariub does have a fair number of forces: 350 border police, ANP in the district centre, 30 regular ANA, NDS forces and Uprisers, and now the ANA-TF of which district governor Kaftan Ikhlas said there would be two companies. However, said the former ALP commander, “despite the large number of troops stationed in the district, security in the areas which have lost ALP checkposts has deteriorated and it will be very difficult for the government to regain them.” In spring, the former ALP commander said, the consequences of this would be known and whether the government has permanently lost the territory.
District governor Iklhas was more sanguine, saying the timing of the transition had minimised any harm. Taleban are either absent or few in number in winter, meaning there was more of a breathing space, he said, to get the ex-ALP trained up and fitted into “the system so they could be used properly.” He thought the ANA-TF would be better than the ALP which, he said, had only really defended itself, not territory and there had been many ghosts in its ranks. Most important for security, he said, was the people and their cooperation with the government, which meant “security in this district is better than in others.”
Hafizullah Mubarez, a member of the Paktia Provincial Council, said the ALP had been very helpful in providing security and the disbandment had produced a lot of worry. The very local nature of the ALP made it difficult for individuals to transfer: “They did not want to be replaced from their areas. Because they served in those areas and they have their families there with them. So they couldn’t leave the area and their families behind.” Overall, he thought the ANA-TF would perform better; they would be better trained and more disciplined. He said that, although in Paktia, because of the strong social bonds, it was difficult for the ALP to oppress people as they did in some other provinces, still “some misused their position and power. Now that they have been disciplined in a framework, they are better.” The ‘ghosts’ were also gone. The ANA-TF had been assigned checkpoints to guard the main Gardez-Zazai Ariub road after receiving two months military training. The safety of the highway was much better than before, said Mubarez, although security in the villages had worsened because there were no longer checkpoints or bases there.
In Zurmat district, also in Paktia, ALP commander, Muhammad Nabi is now commander of the district’s Uprising Forces (before the ALP, he had served in the ANP). He said most of the 50-strong ALP had been stationed in the district centre and guarding the critical Gardez-Zurmat Road. When they received news that the force was being disbanded, most left to join the Uprising Force or the ANA-TF in Gardez, with several also joining the ANP. Currently, Nabi has 370 Uprisers in 23 locations mostly securing the Gardez-Zurmat Road and Rouhani Baba (an undeclared district, officially still part of Zurmat and named after a famous Sufi saint buried there). He said that most of the Uprisers are actually from other provinces, Nangrahar, Laghman and Khost or other districts of Paktia. Losing the ALP was not good for security, he said:
The ALP people were local and knew the roads and villages better than outsiders. For that reason, their presence was very good for security… ALP checkposts around the district centre were lost to the enemy after the disbanding ALP. Local government officials and former-ALP service members also can no longer go the areas where there were ALP checkpoints. ALP who had used to live at home with their families have now moved their families to Gardez. Or they have moved to other provinces.
After the ALP was dissolved, he said only the district centre and some nearby villages were with the government: “If Uprisers weren’t guarding the Gardez road, by which supplies reach both us and Paktika, Zurmat district centre would fall.”
Khalilullah Quraishi, a civil society activist in Zurmat was adamant that the loss of the ALP meant security had worsened, as was district governor Dawlat Zadran. He said ALP checkpoints had stopped Taleban infiltration into the district centre and their loss now heightened the threat of targeted killings in the district centre, a threat which had led many government officials to quit their jobs or move to Gardez. However, Zadran wanted ANA or ANA-TF deployed to his district, rather than Uprisers. Local people, he said, would be far happier with a deployment of regular forces under a more robust and transparent command.
A district where the ALP fell apart at the prospect of transition
In Baraki Barak district of Logar, the ALP had already been in trouble before the transition and the announcement of the disbanding of the ALP, but that announcement had dented morale further and hastened its disintegration, interviewees reported. Shukrullah, former commander of the ALP and now a commander with the ANP, said that by the time of the ALP disbandment, many of his men had already left the force, demoralised by unpaid salaries; it meant there were just 80 ALP left compared to 120 when he had taken command a year previously. Shukrullah said 18 ALP joined the ANA-TF and 12 joined the ANP; others (number unspecified) joined the Uprising Force or left the district for Kabul or other provinces. He said that, in the process of disbandment, ALP checkposts were abandoned, including in the Baraki Rajan area, Qadir village and around the district centre and there were now only ANSF checkpoints in the district centre itself. One elder in the district was downbeat:
When the government announced that the ALP would be dissolved, ALP members were disheartened. No one took care of them. They weren’t paid either. They didn’t receive ammunition from the government. Mostly, ALP posts collapsed and their members gathered in the district centre of the district.
While the ALP was not perfect and had occasionally caused problems, the elder said, they had been useful for security, because they knew the area and the people. Since the force was dissolved, security had worsened. “The Taleban now control all villages,” he said. “It will be difficult for the government to get back the areas they have lost.” He said the elders who used to go to the district centre to solve people’s problems and for weekly meetings to resolve security issues, are now blocked by the Taleban from going. “If we go, our lives will be in danger.”
However, another tribal elder said security had improved in his area where there had always used to be fighting. Now the ALP had gone, the Taleban were in full control: “Since the ALP left,” he said, “people live quietly away from the war.” Member of the provincial council Nafisa Hejran acknowledged that some people had been unhappy with the ALP, as they were with the Uprising Forces because their presence meant fighting with the Taleban was inevitable. However, especially for government employees trying to travel, it had been useful having local forces, men who were familiar with the district, who “know friends and enemies alike.”
For former ALP, now ANP commander Shukrullah, the loss of the ALP posts has meant he and other former comrades cannot leave the district centre. He can no longer go to his village and has sent his family to the provincial centre after they were threatened. “Every day, the enemy attacks us,” he told AAN. “I was injured two weeks ago and am still not better.” The ANP tashkil, he said, is far too small – only 20 men in the district centre, but other interviewees said there was also a reluctance by local men to join the force. Shukrullah said that for now, the ANP is supplied by air.
Sometimes we’re supplied by people in their private vehicles. However, mostly the Taleban stop them and get the foodstuff and other materials sent to us from the provincial centre. When we are supplied from other districts through military convoys, the convoys face problems because of the roadside bombs.
He told AAN he fears the district centre could fall after Nawruz if the situation continues as it is.
In the north-east, ALP-turned ANP and militias
In Takhar and Kunduz, ALP were recruited only into the ANP, with no transfers to the ANA-TF. AAN has published on the ALP in both provinces, detailing their abusive and criminal behaviour. For Kunduz, see pages 37-39 in our special report on local force mobilisation, and for Takhar, in the report, “A Maelstrom of Militias: Takhar, a case study of strongmen co-opting the ALP, we tracked how the abusive behaviour by local strongmen, with strong factional links, had been one factor preparing the ground for the Taleban to re-emerge. Some of those strongmen were able to re-hat their militias as ALP. In Takhar, we were able to detail the high number of ghost ALP in the province and the numbers employed illegally, for example, as bodyguards for strongmen and their family members in Takhar and Kabul. We also found that the ALP was just one variant of the various militias operating under different labels in Takhar, and that these militias might both fight the Taleban and destabilise their areas through their criminal behaviour.
In Chahardara district of Kunduz, a former ALP commander said 160 out of the 280 ALP became ANP and the rest were “dismissed.” He had no word on what they were now doing now. Those in the ANP had yet to receive any training or weapons, he said, but continued to use their own guns. Whether they had been commanders or soldiers in the ALP, all were now ordinary ANP “soldiers” and received the same monthly salary. He said security had changed dramatically:
In the past, we had checkpoints in villages outside the district centre, but now we’re all operating only in the district centre. The Taleban have taken our previous locations and we’re no longer able to go to those areas where we had checkpoints. This has enabled the Taleban to operate in a wider area and even close to the district centre and it’s worsened security. For example, two days ago, Taleban attacked one of our security checkpoints that’s located only a few hundred meters away from the police chief’s compound. Three of our men were killed and their weapons taken by the enemy.
A local civilian, however, said the disbanding of the ALP had made no change to security. ALP lost checkpoints, he said, earlier on because of their failure to fight the Taleban. Before the disbandment, they had been tasked with guarding the district centre, he said, and after the disbandment, the same men were tasked with the same job.
People weren’t happy with the ALP because they harassed locals and forced people to pay taxes. They had a bad reputation. So locals didn’t really support the ALP and they didn’t want their boys joining it.
In Qal-e Zal district, also in Kunduz, another former ALP commander said their tashkil of 100 had already been down to 75 because of deaths and injuries. Because of ANP shortages, the district police chief had already been deploying ALP as regular ANP. At the start of 2021, the ALP were asked whether they wanted to join the ANA-TF or ANP and, he said, they all chose the ANP, with whom they already had a working relationship; there were now 100 ANP in the district. The old ALP are manning checkposts round the district police compound (as they were previously) and also working inside the compound. 100 ANA soldiers also have checkposts to the north of the district centre. Unpaid and lacking supplies, he said they had been given weapons by the police chief, but not all were usable and he had had to pay out of his own pocket to get them fixed. All they had received so far were ten pairs of boots – for 75 men. Meanwhile, almost the entire district was controlled by the Taleban and the ANP came under fire every single night:
The frontline is just outside the police chief’s compound, which means our checkpoints are located on the frontline. Most of the time, we serve there, without food and water. There’s a grocery shop in front of our checkpoint. It only opens once a day and only for a few hours. Most of the time, we can’t even get to the shop to buy the things we need because there are Taleban all around us.
He also said they cannot go to their home villages because the Taleban control them:
We left out homes and farmlands behind. The Taleban have confiscated our properties. Therefore, we have no other option apart from serving in the security forces. We can’t leave. We have no space to live in. We can’t go to Iran or Turkey for work. We’ve served this government but at the end, the government doesn’t care about us. I tell the truth and that is the district is almost entirely under the Taleban. If I left my checkpoints, the Taleban would easily take over the district centre. We need support. We need supplies. We need weapons and ammunition.
A similar picture was painted in Dasht-e Qala districtin neighbouring Takhar province, again by a former ALP commander, who is also now with the ANP. 60 out of the 100-strong ALP had joined the ANP, he said, “those who have a good connection with provincial officials,” while “the rest were dismissed.” He said the Taleban had taken over ALP posts left vacant and the government now only controlled the district centre and nearby villages. He was not happy:
It’s been almost a month since we joined the ANP, but we haven’t received new weapons or other supplies. When we ask, the district police chief says that we have to wait. We’re using our own old weapons. I don’t see any positive changes in security or for our unit after joining the police. We aren’t allowed to conduct anti-Taleban military operations. We’re just instructed to obey the orders that come from the district police chief.
A local journalist from the provincial capital Taloqan, speaking about the province as a whole, said most of the ALP had operated on the frontlines against the Taleban and had been effective in protecting areas. Now, though, he said, there was a vacuum and not enough forces to cover the gap. He thought disbanding the ALP made no sense: while many of the ALP commanders did have bad reputations, the same could also be said for “others in uniform” who “regularly assault locals” and about whom, he said, the government is silent. The ALP, though, he said, had been effective fighters against the Taleban and he saw no positive changes after the disbanding. “The number that joined the security forces,” he said, “was far too low.” He was also concerned about the ALP who had lost their jobs and could not go to their villages anymore because of Taleban threats. Maybe, he said, they handed over their weapons to the Taleban and joined Taleban ranks, or joined criminal networks.
Takhar and Kunduz police spokespeople gave markedly different pictures of the disbanding. Khalil Asir in Takhar said that in his province, all 630 ALP had joined the ANP and after two or four weeks training were operating in their old areas and from their checkpoints as they had the past. In Kunduz, ANP spokesperson Inhamuddin Rahmani also said the ALP-turned-ANP operated where they had previously: “They serve in their old checkpoints and provide security for their areas… just under a different name. That is the only difference.” He also said the former ALP commanders were now serving as group commanders with the military rank of zabet (colonel), because of their military and administrative experience.
In Jurm district of Badakhshan, about half of the old ALP were transferred to the ANP; a former district governor said 60 out of 100, a former ALP commander said 50 – “those with contacts.” The former commander, who is among those now without a job, said he had been an ALP commander in the Khostak valley, which was overrun by the Taleban a few years ago. Forced to leave his village and live in the district centre, he had been deployed to ALP check posts round the district centre – until the ALP were disbanded:
I’m dismissed from my job and I have no other income. I can’t go to my village anymore. I made enemies for no reason. Because of serving with the ALP, the Taleban want to kill me. I hoped the government would support us. I didn’t know that one day the government would cast us aside and abandon us.
He said he had asked the district police chief to help those dismissed. The chief had talked of plans for a new Uprising Force which the remaining ALP could join. However, for now, the former ALP commander said the local government’s only action was to push them hard to hand over weapons and vehicles; they had given in most of their weapons, keeping just some back for personal protection.
The former district governor said those ALP not transferred to the ANP had been offered transfers to the ANA-TF, but had rejected this. Still armed and “operating in some parts of the district,” he said they were instead lobbying provincial officials and also officials in Kabul to give them posts in an expanded ANP tashkil.
A confusing plethora of armed men in Jurm district, operating under different or multiple banners, was described by both the former district governor and a local doctor. The former district governor said:
The official tashkil for the ALP was 100, but in reality the numbers were much higher. For example, a group commander was supposed to have ten fighters, but they would reach 20 or 25. It means there were many non-ALP operating under the ALP banner. There are about ten to 15 illegal armed groups in the district, all loyal to local or provincial powerbrokers.
The doctor also said armed groups were still operating in Jurm “under the banner of ALP – fewer than before, but still visible.” He said the ALP and other armed groups are largely loyal to Zekreya Sawda (former MP, currently serves as provincial governor for Badakhshan) or Zalmai Mujaddedi (MP from Badakhshan). They operate in the district and have checkpoints on the frontlines. There are also other armed groups under the Uprising Force banner.
It’s difficult to recognise who’s ALP and who’s Uprising. There are armed people around the town. I see them every day. I do not think disbanding the ALP can work in Jurm because these armed groups have supporters at the district and provincial levels. So it’s impossible to disarm them.
The former ALP commander blamed the disbandment for the loss of checkposts near the district centre and said the Taleban were now able to attack posts inside the district centre. Re-taking those areas would be impossible, he said, given the insufficiency of government forces. The former district governor agreed that the ALP had fought effectively and protected the district centre, but said they were “also involved in harassing locals, drug trafficking and other illegal activities in the district.”
Effect of the transition on two aspects of the ANSF
Drawing on the case studies, interviews with former MoD and RS officials and SIGAR’s reporting, we wanted to consider the impact of the transition on two aspects of the ANSF, force strength and whether safeguards had been complied with as ALP were brought over.
ANSF force strength
ALP were not counted as part of the ANSF, so their transfer to the ANP or ANA-TF has created an increase in the ANSF’s authorised strength. SIGAR reported in its 2020 Q4 report that “up to 10,851 ALP” would be joining the ANA-TF and that the new tashkil for MoI forces was now set at 136,000, up by just over 11,000 from 124,626 in June 2019. This increase in MoI forces has been authorised as a temporary tashkil, created to enable the absorption of the ALP. Numbers are already being reduced, for example, by slotting ALP into existing vacancies or cutting them if not needed. This is “in line,” said the RS official “with the MoI’s commitment to the international community to reduce the tashkil back down to the approximately 124,000 personnel currently funded by LOTFA [the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, the mechanism used by donors to fund the ANP].”
That combined number of almost 21,000 ALP possibly joining the ANP and ANA-TF always looked large, given SIGAR’s previous estimate of ALP size at 18,000. As we reported in the autumn, there was a surge in ALP being enrolled into the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS) before the 30 September deadline, which would have pushed up numbers eligible for transfer. At the same time, as many of our interviewees made clear, in many districts, ghost ALP have also come to light and anyway, not all ALP were transferred. Looking at the actual numbers of ALPcoming over, they are indeed, far lower. The RS official said a little over 6,000 former ALP were now enrolled in the ANP, with a final figure expected to be somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000, while currently a little over 5,700 ALP had enrolled in the ANA-T.
Safeguards applied, or disregarded
Most of this section on safeguards concerns the ANA-TF, partly because the author was not given the opportunity to interview those at the MoI overseeing the transition, as she did the MoD, and partly because those setting up the ANA-TF did so with a set of safeguards to prevent it resembling the ALP. As reported by AAN in 2020, planners established a model they hoped would harness the potential benefits of a local force while preventing the new force becoming a set of local militias. Measures included the painstaking selection of locations (at least in the early phases) so the new force would not be co-opted by local strongmen, or merely ‘re-hat’ existing militias, or exacerbate local ethnic or tribal tensions. Care was taken to ensure companies were deployed where they were both needed and would not be immediately overrun by the Taleban. There had to be support from provincial and district governors and, in a measure that was never properly implemented, support and agreement from the community for a new ANA-TF company. The presidential decree setting up the new force required that officers be professional ANA officers who were not from the district where they were serving, in order to lessen the risk of mobilising or re-hatting militias.
Safeguards applied, or disregarded 1: Biometrics and vetting
To be transferred to either the ANP or ANA-TF, the rule that individual ALP had to be enrolled in the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS), which entails their biometric data being taken, appears to have been strictly followed. ALP should already have been registered in this system, but despite efforts to get them enrolled (detailed in this 2017 AAN report), not all were. Many of our interviewees mentioned the biometrics and vetting, as well as ALP ghosts being uncovered during the transition. APPS is crucial, the means by which the identities of ANSF personnel are verified and the mechanism through which they are paid. It should ensure salaries actually go to service personnel and not into the pockets of their superiors, important therefore also for donors. The RS official interviewed described APPS as their “HR system of record – our transparency and accountability mechanism.” The transition does appear to have cleared a large number of ghosts from the ranks of government forces, though its insistence on everyone transferring being registered in APPS.
Safeguards applied, or disregarded 2: What to do with the commanders?
Under ANA-TF rules, company commanders should be serving or retired ANA officers who are not from the district; this is a legal obligation enshrined in the presidential decree setting up the force and is aimed at avoiding the co-option of companies. The two former MoD officials said the rule that ALP commanders should not be moved with their men was upheld because of the risk that men would remain, as one said, “loyal to their commander,” which would risk “repeating the mistakes of the ALP.” The other former MoD official said that ALP commanders who met the criteria for joining the ANA-TF could transfer, but should not serve in their own districts, “although they could be [deployed] to nearby districts.”
When told that in our survey, we had found several examples of ALP commanders being transferred with their men (Jaji Maidan in Khost, Jalrez in Maidan Wardak, and also Shajoy in Zabul, which featured in our October 2020 report), one of the former MoD officials said the MoD had authorised some exceptions, when for example, “recommendations concerning ALP commanders came from the regular ANA.” He said “if he was useful, we allowed it. We were flexible.” He thought that in 80 per cent of cases, it was not allowed, however. When AAN looked into the ANA-TF in a special report published in August 2020, we found this rule already quite frequently breached, although the rule that officers had to be professional ANA officers did appear to be strictly implemented.
The issue of commanders coming with their men into the ANP was certainly discussed, said the RS official, who noted there were risks and potential benefits to both keeping commanders and units intact and splitting them up, given the value of “having an experienced ANP officer in charge,” but also the possible harm done by “parachuting someone in who doesn’t have connections and can’t command and control in any meaningful way.” In our sample, two districts had ALP-turned ANP commanders, Chamkani in Paktia, where a commander came with his men, and Baraki Barak in Logar where very few ALP came over as it had, by that time, already disintegrated.
Safeguards applied, or disregarded 3: Community consultation
Community support was described at great length as fundamental to establishing a good local defence force by those setting up both the ALP and the ANA-TF. It tended to be honoured more in the breach with the ALP, however, and the establishment of the ANA-TF provided no clear mechanism for it to be done, meaning consultation was only patchily carried out. In the case of the ALP transition, according to one of the MoD interviewees, there was no consultation with local civilians as to what they wanted to happen to the force.
Safeguards applied, or disregarded 4: Rapid expansion
‘Rapid expansion’ is included in this section because those setting up the ANA-TF had been at such pains in choosing locations for the new force, at least during the early phases, and because the US, as the force’s main funders, had called a halt to its further expansion in March 2020, as reported by SIGAR because of the failure to properly integrate the ANA-TF into the regular ANA. The problems were detailed by both SIGAR (p88) and ANA-TF commanders speaking to AAN; they described not getting supplies, being ignored and their local expertise being overlooked and wasted, including by being put only on continuous guard duty of ANA bases. The halt to further expansion, at the end of phase 2 of ANA-TF deployment when there were 105 ANA-TF companies, meant a delay in starting phase 3, by the end of which there would have been 121 companies. Until these issues were fixed, said RS Commander, General Austin ‘Scott’ Miller, no more companies would be established.
Yet now, the US has authorised a huge expansion of the ANA-TF, far more than the 16 new companies originally envisaged for phase 3. According to SIGAR, 81 ANA-TF new companies were authorised by the last quarter of 2020, bringing the total number up to 186. All were deployed by the end of the year, it said, with the exception, first of those in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand, which were delayed because of the dire security situation and second, 24 ANA-TF companies to be established in “contested locations.” This expansion was described as being driven by the need to deal with the ALP disbandment. Locations, SIGAR reported, were selected “[t]o fill the security vacuum created by the ALP dissolution,” with ANSF leaders aiming at ensuring there was “continuation of a local security mechanism with increased oversight, integration, and support from the ANA.”
One of our ex-MoD interviewees said that the problems of ANA-TF integration into the regular ANA had been investigated before the expansion was authorised. He said General Miller had assigned a team to look into the “challenges” facing the ANA-TF and that it had found that about 10 to 15 per cent of the problems, for example those caused by logistics, had been the responsibility of RS; the rest were from the ANA/MoD side: “Most of the issues were solved, so the ban on expansion was lifted. It was the right call. If the restrictions were still there, [the ALP] could have joined the enemy. RS showed flexibility.”
SIGAR has listed several ways in which the ANA is now managing the ANA-TF better, including setting up weekly working groups at the MoD focusing on the ALP transition to the ANA-TF and “wider ANA-TF challenges” and evidence of increased tactical support to some ANA-TF companies. It reports increased oversight and management by the MoD and increased incorporation of the ANA-TF into joint operations with regular ANA. It also lists problems that persist, which have not been helped by bringing the ALP into the ANA-TF. The ANA has not relinquished checkpoints to the ANA-TF, SIGAR reports, because it generally “mistrusts the ALP, even though they now serve in ANA-TF tolays [companies] under the command of conventional ANA leadership.” That last assertion by SIGAR, at least from what interviewees have told us, appears to be not entirely incorrect; in some districts, ANA-TF companies are under the command of their old ALP commanders.
The one region where the transition was delayed was the south; Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand were put on “temporary hold,” reported SIGAR, “until at latest February 2021,” although that may have slipped. AAN found mixed reports from two districts in Kandahar. In March, Arghandab, district governor Ahmad Sharif said the ALP should have been dissolved, but because of bad security conditions and at the request of tribal elders and district officials, it remained active and, he said, there were no plans to remove it. The district governor of neighbouring Shahwalikot, Fazal Muhammad Gharib Shah, said the ALP there had been disbanded at the end of 2020 and some ALP were due to be recruited into the ANA-TF. He also said some ALP had moved with their families to Kandahar City because of security threats.
The delay was not just driven by concerns about the high risk of transition, given the strength of the insurgency in the south. There was also resistance locally. That is not new. In April 2019 on a trip to Kandahar by the author, elders, government officials and ANA officers in the province reported ANP chief Tadin Razeq blocking the establishment of the ANA-TF because he did not want a neutral, professional force that would not be directly under his control and would not automatically recruit his men. One of the former MoD officials interviewed for this report thought resistance to disbanding the ALP also stemmed from the high number of ghost ALP, which would mean commanders losing a funding stream. Ultimately though, he said, if the ALP did not transfer, “there would not be much impact on security – this is our assessment – because there are so many ghosts.”
The most famous local defence force in Afghanistan in recent times is almost at an end, with just a few units of ALP lingering on into 2021. When the US set up the force in 2009 and 2010 (and in local force experiments before then), it had found the idea of ‘leveraging’ local communities to fight the Taleban attractive. They did not bother themselves much with the possible consequences of mobilising local men to fight local insurgents and the danger of creating grievous and long-lasting enmities. Planners also ignored question of how the ALP was ever to be stood down, although a concern for many, given that it is so much easier to set up a local defence force in Afghanistan than to stand it down. A draw-down strategy was not built into their plans. The ALP has been a largely unloved force. Those in government barely had a good word to say for it, perhaps unfairly given that in some places at least it has defended communities against the insurgency. Yet, the idea of standing down tens of thousands of armed men scattered throughout the country was never contemplated until in the end, the force majeure of the US Congress compelled the Afghan government and its foreign backers to act.
The ALP is now, pretty well, no more. Yet, the fact that most of its men have been transferred into the nation’s armed forces, some of them with their commanders, means that something of the ALP’s legacy lives on within the ANP and ANA-TF. What impact this has on those forces remains to be seen. That the disbandment was not catastrophic is an accomplishment, given the nature of the ALP and strength of the insurgency. However, our case studies suggest that the ultimate consequences of the end of the ALP to Afghanistan’s security – positive and negative – are likely to be very varied indeed and emerge only in the months ahead.
Edited by Rachel Reid
This article was last updated on 15 Apr 2021