Home Global News Afghanistan Considers Arming Civilians to Fight Taliban and IS insurgency

Afghanistan Considers Arming Civilians to Fight Taliban and IS insurgency

Armed Afghan villagers. Courtesy: blogs.ft.com
Armed Afghan villagers. Courtesy: blogs.ft.com
Armed Afghan villagers. Courtesy: blogs.ft.com
Armed Afghan villagers. Courtesy: blogs.ft.com

Afghanistan is reviewing its plan about training and arming 20,000 civilians to defend territories where Islamic militants have been driven out. The proposal for a government-backed armed group that would protect its own communities from the Taliban and the Islamic State group comes as Afghanistan’s security forces, demoralized by killings and desertions, struggle to keep a check on rampant insurgency.

However, the proposal has raised concerns that the local forces could become unruly and turn into another abusive militia terrorizing the very people it is supposed to defend.

The Western diplomats in Kabul familiar with the plan — modeled on the Indian Territorial Army that supports the country’s regular forces — said Afghan officials had expressed concerns the militia could be used by “powerful strongmen” or become “dependent on local patronage networks”.

American and Afghan officials told AFP the fighters would come under the command of the Afghan army and be better trained than the Afghan Local Police — a village-level force set up by the United States in 2010 and accused of human rights violations. “Right now we rely on commandos and air strikes to retake the lost territories but after the commandos leave we don’t have enough forces to hold onto the territories,” said a senior defence ministry official who asked not to be named.

“The force will operate under an army corps and will be used to fill the gaps. They will be recruited from the locals and will be numbered around 20,000.” Defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri confirmed to AFP that a plan for “local forces” was being discussed.

“People will be recruited from their native areas because they know their regions and how to keep them,” Waziri said, but added there was no guarantee it would be implemented. A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support train and assist mission also confirmed a proposal for an Afghan territorial army was on the table. But another American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told AFP the idea was still in “the brainstorming phase”.

However, rights group are concerned that these armed groups can also use their training and weapons to commit atrocities against innocent civilians. In the past, Afghan leaders trained and equipped by the U.S. to fight the Taliban are now heading militias accused of kidnapping, extortion and human rights violations.

Another risk is that members of the armed group can switch sides. Hundreds of Sunni fighters put on the Department of Defense payroll between 2006 and 2008 to fight al-Qaida in Iraq were reported to have rejoined the insurgent movement after U.S. troops began to withdraw in 2009.

Kabul is currently relying on a 330,000-strong Afghan National Security and Defence Forces militia force to battle the Taliban and IS insurgency. Afghan militias have a long and chequered history in the country with many linked to war crimes and leading to rise of the Taliban.

In addition to the proposed Afghan Territorial Army, the Afghan government is considering creating a new 15,000-strong tribal militia, under the Ministry of Tribal and Border Affairs, currently headed by former governor Gul Agha Sherzai. The model for such a militia appears to be those established along ethnic lines by the late President Mohammad Najibullah in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Members of those militia forces were responsible for serious human rights abuses.