Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brutality by Afghan Local Police Is Reported


The New York Times

September 12, 2011

Brutality by Afghan Local Police Is Reported


KABUL, Afghanistan — Local police forces trained and financed by the United States have killed and raped civilians, stolen land and carried out other abuses against the Afghan villagers they are charged with protecting, according to a report released on Monday by Human Rights Watch.

The accusations of violence, theft and impunity raise new questions about whether the local police and government-supported militias in Afghanistan, which are meant to play a major role in defending small villages against the Taliban, are instead undermining security at a critical moment for the country and the NATO-led war effort.

The rights group’s report said the Afghan government’s failure to punish abusive local police officers or the militias known as arbakai was causing harm in several ways: seeding the ground for further abuses, building local support for the Taliban and eroding people’s faith in the government to crack down on corruption, lawlessness and powerful local warlords.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force offered a measured response to the assessment, saying in a Twitter posting that the report offered suggestions for refining and improving parts of the year-old program to build up the local security forces. But it said that other aspects of the report were “dated/incorrect.”

“This report will be carefully evaluated, to take the necessary steps,” said Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a NATO spokesman in Kabul. “ISAF welcomes fair criticism and advice, and will continue to support the buildup of Afghan institutions, with a view of full accountability and openness.”

With most of the Western forces in Afghanistan preparing to depart by the end of 2014, the Afghan Local Police initiative has been trumpeted as an important stopgap to secure remote corners of Afghanistan until the growing Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police can take control. It follows years of largely failed efforts by Western and Afghan officials to build an effective community-level defense corps.

The paramilitary local police forces number about 7,500 officers in 46 districts, and officials hope to expand them to 30,000 officers. They are trained for three weeks by American Special Forces units and then armed with automatic rifles; they are paid about 60 percent of the salaries that national police officers get.

Although the local forces are credited with improving security in some corners of the country, aid workers, Afghan civilians and local officials have complained that some of the police units do the bidding of local warlords and are not held accountable for their abuses of power.

According to the report issued on Monday, Afghan leaders from some communities said that they had been pressed by the government to accept the local police in their villages, and that the American Special Forces had enrolled militia members as local police officers over the objections of elders.

A spokesman for the Special Forces command in Afghanistan declined to discuss the report in detail, but said candidates for the local police were nominated by local gatherings of elders and “must be thoroughly vetted to ensure only quality individuals are selected.”

The report also described tangled lines of responsibility for the local forces. It told of a man in western Afghanistan whose father had been killed by an Afghan Local Police commander in October. When the man, Lal Mohammed, complained to American troops, they told him to speak with the national police; the national police told him to talk to the Americans, the report said.

Opponents of the program, like Hajji Janan, a member of the provincial council in Wardak, just west of the capital, said that the local police were militias by another name, and that they had killed five civilians in the past six weeks and regularly extorted money from residents.

Tensions have flared between the local police and their national counterparts, sometimes fatally. In late August, a local police commander in Baghlan Province was shot and killed by a commander from a national police unit, setting off clashes between the two organizations. It was unclear what had set off the violence.

Ray Rivera and Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul, and Enayat Najafizada from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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