Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Karzai green-lights US plan to set up local police forces

AP , KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his national security team endorsed a US-backed plan to set up local police forces around the country, allowing villagers to protect themselves in areas where international and Afghan forces can’t be spared.

The new Local Police Force initiative will be overseen by the Afghan government. That was a key demand of Karzai who fears that simply arming villagers without government oversight would essentially create local militias that could undermine his administration and possibly fuel a new civil war.

Karzai’s office offered no details about the plan, other than a statement released on Wednesday evening saying the Local Police Force would be under the direct supervision of the interior ministry.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the plan was designed to fill the gaps in security in remote areas and empower opponents of Taliban domination to fight back — while also providing jobs.

“This is about putting locals to work, so that they can be on watch in their communities, for people who shouldn’t be there, and then work with the established security organizations — the army, the police, the coalition — to make sure [insurgents] don’t menace their communities,” Morrell told reporters on Wednesday in Washington.

He stressed the local defense forces would not be militias, but “government-formed, government-paid, government-uniformed local police units who would keep any eye out for bad guys.”

NATO officials declined to publicly comment on the program, even though NATO Commander General David Petraeus has been intimately involved in discussions about it in recent days at the presidential palace. However, a coalition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed US backing for the plan.

“The challenge we’ve got is that we’ve got a huge area,” British Major General Nick Carter, a NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, said earlier this week. “We’ve got a large quantity of population and we can’t be everywhere. And what the village stability operations allow us is the opportunity to give the Afghans the courage to take protection into their own hands so we don’t have to put conventional forces there.”

Carter said local police forces have to be set up cautiously.

“What you don’t want to do is disconnect those population centers from the government,” Carter said. “What we’re trying to do throughout everything we do in this campaign is connect the government to the population.”

There have been several local defense initiatives tried around the country, now these forces would be swept into the Local Police Force, the statement said.

The local policing plan in Afghanistan is somewhat akin to the Awakening Councils in Iraq where Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq, reached out to Sunni sheiks — a move credited for helping oust militants from key areas and sharply decreasing attacks.

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