Karzai approves plan for local defense forces
KABUL, Afghanistan — After intensive negotiations with NATO military commanders, the Afghan government Wednesday approved a program to establish local defense forces that U.S. military officials hope will help remote areas of the country thwart attacks by Taliban insurgents.
Details of the plan are sketchy, but Americans had been promoting the force as a crucial stopgap to combat rising violence and frustration with the slow pace of training permanent professional security forces — the key condition for the U.S. military to begin pulling back from an increasingly unpopular war. Many parts of Afghanistan have no soldiers or po- lice on the ground.
Over 12 days of talks, Gen. David 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 couldn’t 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.
“They would not be militias,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a briefing Wednesday in Washington. “These would be government-formed, governmentpaid, government-uniformed local police units who would keep any eye out for bad guys — in their neighborhoods, in their communities — and who would, in turn, work with the Afghan police forces and the Afghan army to keep them out of their towns.”
It is, he added, “a temporary solution to a very real, near-term problem.”
The program borrows from the largely successful Sunni militia groups that Petraeus created in Iraq, although the two programs wouldn’t be identical. Unlike the Iraqi units, the Afghan forces would not be composed of insurgents who had switched sides. They would be similar as a lightly armed, trained and, significantly, paid force in a nation starving for jobs.
Although some U.S. officials said the forces could have as many as 10,000 people enrolled in them, Afghan officials indicated that they wanted to keep them smaller.
An Afghan police officer stands guard Wednesday at a police base that had come under attack Tuesday night in Kandahar. That assault killed 3 American troops along with 3 Afghan police officers and 5 Afghan civilians.