by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.
As regimes, governments, and states in the Third World have struggled to combat insurgencies, they have often turned to militias and paramilitaries to supplement overworked armies and militaries. In Afghanistan, America and Britain have sponsored the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a pseudo-law enforcement agency, to hold and secure cities, towns, and villages reclaimed from the Taliban.
In theory, the ALP should work well. It allows the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) to send fighters to the battlefield as local policemen defend the rear. Because the Taliban draws its support from Pashtuns and has worked toward infiltrating Tajik and Uzbek communities, the ALP can serve a critical role in providing local protection from the Taliban and support for the Afghan government. In practice, however, the ALP has often created more problems than it has solved, threatening Afghan and Western successes on the battlefield.
While the [ALP] forces have performed well in some parts of the country, in other parts, like Kunduz, they are seen as a source of chaos and banditry rather than security. — Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns“, The New York Times, 16.10.2015.
Though the ALP’s incidents of friendly fire are neither unique nor universal (the ANA and ANP having plenty of the same problems) the ALP presents a dilemma for Afghanistan’s national security in that it lacks the ANA and the ANP’s cohesiveness and discipline. The Afghan government will face difficulties in trying to control the ALP. “With such little oversight, local politicians had turned the units into personal bodyguards and otherwise abused the force,” noted War Is Boring last year in an article about the Battle of Kunduz, when the Taliban had managed to capture Kunduz for a few days. News media and human rights defenders have criticized the ALP for corruption and war crimes.
Adam Stump, the US Defense Department’s spokesman for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, described the purpose of the ALP in an email: “The ALP is designed to provide local security and conduct local counterinsurgency missions, primarily against Taliban members in and around villages. […] The ALP is not, however, intended to conduct offensive operations against al Qaeda, ISIL–Khorasan, or other terrorist organizations” (ISIL–Khorasan refers to the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan). Therefore, the ALP faces obvious limitations in which insurgents it can fight, and observers have doubted the law enforcement agency’s effectiveness. Only last year, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published the report “Afghan Local Police: A Critical Rural Security Initiative Lacks Adequate Logistics Support, Oversight, and Direction“. The title implies the ALP’s inherent dilemma: though Afghanistan needs a local law enforcement agency in theory, the ALP has failed to fulfil this role in practice without “adequate logistics support, oversight, and direction”. Even so, the Americans continue to bankroll the ALP, hoping that the benefits outweigh the risks.
The law enforcement agency comes with a hefty price tag. According to Stump, the American government will spend in 2017 almost eighty million dollars on the ALP, thirteen million of which will go to equipment but only five hundred thousand of which will go to training. The rest, sixty-five million, covers “salaries, subsistence and other pay”. On the one hand, the American government funds much of Afghanistan’s security forces, so the ALP is by no means a rare example. On the other, the Americans and the British invented and subsidized the ALP, meaning that they bear responsibility for its success or failure. Stump assured in his email that the policemen are receiving training in human rights from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Whether this training has helped, remains far from obvious.
Afghanistan was omitted from this year’s [Child Soldiers Prevention Act] list, despite evidence that the Afghan Local Police, a government-backed militia engaged in combat operations against the Taliban and other insurgents, recruits and uses children as soldiers. — “US: Don’t Fund Child Soldiers Abroad — State Department List Adds Iraq, Excludes Afghanistan“, Human Rights Watch, 30.06.2016.
If trends continue, the ALP will remain a militia plagued by corruption, war crimes, and warlordism instead of a true law enforcement agency. For the ALP to maintain Afghanistan’s national security as the international community, reform is necessary.