Wed, May 11, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Time is running short for Afghan forces: Oxfam

Reuters, KABUL

Almost a decade of neglect has raised serious concerns about whether Afghan security forces will be ready to take over from foreign forces by the end of 2014, a new report said yesterday, with serious concerns remaining about rights abuses.

The report, released by British charity Oxfam and three other rights groups, said serious efforts to strengthen the professionalism and accountability of Afghan forces only really began in 2009.

Under a plan agreed at a NATO summit in Lisbon late last year, NATO-led forces will begin a gradual handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces from July.

Under the plan, all foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. There are now about 150,000 foreign troops in the country and 285,000 Afghan troops and police, with plans to increase Afghan forces to a total 305,000 by October, according to US Department of Defense figures.

However, that tight timeframe, set against the backdrop of a -growing Taliban-led insurgency, has raised questions among some analysts and NGOs about whether Afghan forces would be ready in time.

“It’s not too late, but an adequate response will not be possible without genuine political will at the highest levels of civilian and military leadership, both Afghan and international,” the report said.

Civilian casualties have long been a source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s and his Western backers.

A UN report this year showed that last year was by far the most lethal for Afghan civilians since the Taliban were toppled late 2001, with a total of 2,777 civilians killed, up 15 percent on the previous year.

Insurgents were responsible for 75 percent of those deaths. The number attributed to foreign forces was about 10 percent, a fall of 26 percent after engagement rules were tightened significantly over the past 18 months.

The report noted that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were also responsible for 10 percent of the civilians killed last year, but such figures “do not convey the full extent of harm caused to the civilian population by the ANSF.”

Alleged rights violations included night raids carried out without adequate precautions to protect civilians, the recruitment and sexual abuse of children, mistreatment during detention, and abuse of civilians by local police many see as little more than “criminal gangs.”

The report noted “a striking lack of attention” to the development of qualified security personnel and accountability mechanisms.

Civilian casualties caused by the ANSF “are not even counted by the government,” it said.

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