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By Lynn Yoshikawa and Matt Pennington
It was ten years ago this month that Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan. Now, with the United States preparing to draw down its military forces and other NATO coalition member troops already gone, the focus is shifting to what an exit strategy from that country might look like. And a key component of the security hand-over to Afghan National Security Forces is the establishment of community defense forces, known as the Afghan Local Police (ALP).
The ALP was launched last year by the Afghan government to recruit local units to defend remote, insecure areas of the country against insurgent threats and attacks. Recruits are nominated by a local shura council, then vetted by Afghan intelligence and trained for up to three weeks by U.S. forces. General David Petraeus, the former ISAF Commander in Afghanistan, touts the ALP as successfully thwarting the insurgency.
But this narrative is very different from the one Refugees International discovered on a recent visit to the country. In May, we traveled to Afghanistan to conduct an assessment of the humanitarian situation in the country, in light of the increasing displacement caused by conflict. During the course of our 16-day mission, we conducted over 50 interviews with displaced Afghans, local organizations, UN officials, aid workers, human rights researchers, government officials, security analysts, and journalists in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and surrounding areas. To our surprise, the rapid rollout of the ALP program was widely criticized by Afghans and humanitarian actors. Almost every single one of our interviewees highlighted the growth of the ALP and the simultaneous rise of other pro-government militias as their top concern for the security of civilians and stability in the country, particularly in the north.
But despite the fact that some ALP units have been implicated in murder, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, abductions, forcible land grabs, and illegal raids, U.S. forces are under pressure to quickly help recruit and stand up ALP units - with the goal of adding another 23,000 men to the existing force of 7,000 at sites across the country. In our June report we called on the Obama administration to pressure the Afghan government to halt further expansion of the ALP and address its shortfalls immediately.
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