U.S. Plan for New Afghan Force Revives Fears of Militia Abuses

The new local force would be under the command of the army, and recruits would go through similar training as regular soldiers. But the new force would serve primarily in local communities, holding areas cleared by the regular army, whose units would take on a primarily offensive role.

Afghan officials say the new approach would in fact help rein in an unwieldy array of militias, rather than empower them to commit abuses.

The idea surely appeals to American commanders, like Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Military officers want to demonstrate progress to Mr. Trump, who said his “original instinct was to pull out.” He has ruled out a “hasty withdrawal” but insisted that there is no “blank check” for what has become the longest war in United States history.

But in interviews, at least four Western officials briefed on the plan expressed doubts that the new force would be much different from the old Afghan Local Police militias, given the violent reality that districts are threatened by the Taliban.

“It risks being turned into a dangerous shortcut,” one of them said.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch, which has widely documented past abuses by Afghan militias, called on the Afghan government to reject the proposal for another force with inadequate training and oversight.

“The Afghan government’s expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of creating additional local forces, which are hard to control and prone to abuses, the Afghan government, with U.S. and NATO support, should be strengthening training and oversight to ensure that all forces respect the law.”

Over 16 years, the United States has bankrolled a handful of militias, hoping that each of the latest would improve on the previous one’s history of abuses.

The Afghan Local Police, or A.L.P., began in 2010 as a 10,000-strong force but now stands at more than 20,000 members. Despite significant training, American officials concluded that the force had brought about mixed results at best, with only one-third of the areas they patrol seeing improvements in security.

Independent observers and human rights groups have often described the A.L.P. as a source of abuse, with little of the oversight in paper often materializing on the ground. The forces often have served…

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