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Afghan villages to setup local security groups

January 19, 2011

Afghan villages adopting a town-watch style security setup.

The Afghan government has organized more than 2,000 villagers into armed local defense forces so they can keep out insurgents and support coalition and Afghan forces.

The self-defense groups are part of an expanding U.S.-backed program that bears a resemblance to a similar tactic in Iraq that proved successful.

In Afghanistan, the program has helped protect villages from insurgent attacks and the plan could expand to up to 10,000 people, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said. If the plan proves successful it could grow even larger, he said.

“Wherever this is created people have welcomed it,” Bashary said.

The small defense forces are being established around the country, according to the Afghan government. The groups will have about 250 to 300 people each, the Pentagon said.

The plan resembles the “Awakening” in Iraq, in which sheiks and local leaders helped recruit followers into the local police or community defense groups in 2007. The Awakening spread throughout Iraq and contributed to the overall success in combating militants.

But Bashary says the tactic is evolving differently in Afghanistan, which has had a history of powerful warlords who commanded private militias. “Afghanistan and Iraq are two different countries,” he said.

The coalition and Afghan forces have attempted to carefully set up the program to avoid empowering “the militias or warlords that once terrorized Afghanistan,” according to a twice yearly Pentagon report to Congress on the Afghanistan war.

The Afghan government will carefully assess village dynamics before establishing organizations and the forces will be closely coordinated with coalition forces, the Pentagon says.

A number of villages have already stood up to the Taliban, according to the Pentagon.

Last April local villagers in Daykundi province in central Afghanistan fought against the Taliban with support from the Afghan government and coalition forces, the report said.

Since then there have been indications that communities in Herat, Paktika, Paktia, Oruzgan, Konduz, and Farah also defended their areas from Taliban incursions.

The program is designed to organize those efforts. Since August, when the program officially started it has shown results, analysts say.

In a district near Kandahar the presence of armed and organized villagers has disrupted Taliban communication lines between Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War.

The military views it as a temporary means to bolster security while conventional Afghan security forces are growing, according to the Pentagon.

“I don’t think expectations are that high,” said Jeffrey Dressler, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who said that one benefit of the plan is that it allows commanders to expand security into areas lacking heavy concentrations of coalition forces or Afghan soldiers.

Recruits who bring their own rifles have to register the weapons with the Afghan government, Bashary said.

The program is temporary and the villagers could eventually join the Afghan army or national police, which is similar to how the plan worked in Iraq.

“The local people are on board,” Bashary said. “The people will stand up against the bad guys.”



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