VIEW: Local militias warlords and the Afghan army —Musa Khan Jalalzai- Thursday, May 05, 2011

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After the failure of all US strategies, private militias’ brutality, and persistent insecurity, there is growing consensus among the Afghan population that the US and NATO allies are pursuing flawed military strategies of arming war criminals militias 

On April 27, 2011, a frustrated Afghan Air Force pilot killed eight coalition troops and one civilian contractor at Kabul International Airport. Afghan pilot, Ahmad Gul, who served in the air force for over 30 years under the communist regimes, was a poor man suffering from frustration and anxiety. As he had not been paid his salary for months, he sold his house to feed his poverty stricken children.

The credibility of the Afghan ministry of defence has been seriously stained by the strike of a suicide bomber who reached the third floor of the building to kill the defence minister. The tide of concern continues to rise regarding the readiness of national security forces to defend the country against internal and external threats. This successful attempt made dubious the capacity of the Afghan army in defending Afghanistan. In recent months, thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers registered complaints with various military headquarters and units about the non-payment of their salaries. Over 90 percent soldiers of the army and the police are living in rented houses and therefore they need their salaries on time. In 2011, these two incidents are another setback for the US and NATO commanders handing over security duties to the Afghan national army by 2014.

The Taliban infiltration into the Afghan national army units is the most serious issue facing NATO allies and Afghanistan. Several ethnic incidents, political appointments, sub-conflicts and inter-related conflicts have also caused a volatile crisis in the country. Some conflicts are being fuelled by ethnic and sectarian elements working in the defence and interior ministries. Some other factors that caused alienation and frustration in both the interior and defence ministries are Afghanistan’s geographical location, foreign involvement, economic deprivation, hardship, factionalism, ethnicity, poverty and unemployment.

In 2007, the use of improvised explosive devices confined NATO patrol to the streets of major Afghan cities. Between 2008 and 2011, the Taliban insurgency grew in the once stable western and northern provinces while the military and civil administration remained divided on ethnic and political basis. Every general showed his loyalty to the party leader he belonged to, not the state. Taliban militants also tried to undermine trust between the coalition and Afghan forces.

An Afghan general once told me that suicide attacks within the army units were part of the Taliban strategy to undermine the Afghan population’s faith in their own security forces. Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the Afghan national army has been promoted as the cornerstone of counterinsurgency in the country, but, as there is a failed state with corrupt administration that cannot provide security at the local level, incapable of fostering lawful economic growth, justice and reconciliation with the Taliban, the army has not been able to respond to the wishes of the people effectively.

This is more than a factional army working for the interests of different factions in and outside the ministry of defence. The international coalition, instead of supporting the Afghan national army, strengthens private security companies. Warlords and their militias are primary source of insecurity. These rogue armies have challenged the Afghan national army. Their illegal operations encouraged the Taliban and their sympathisers to appoint their own governors and officers in various provinces in Afghanistan. State failure, ineffective counter insurgency efforts and uncontrolled organised crime empowered both the Taliban and private militias. Drugs, human trafficking and kidnapping for ransom increased and the network spread to the headquarters and units of the Afghan national army and the police.

The black market economy, smuggling, containerised trade and narcotics money are a lucrative source of illegal revenue, which is used to bribe government officials. During the last 10 years, as the US and NATO have not been able to stabilise Afghanistan, and now they are in consultation with the Afghan government to apply the Iraq strategy in the country.

The American General David Petraeus’ controversial plan to recruit thousands of locals in remote Afghan villages was apposed by the defence and interior ministries. NATO intends to train and arm various groups as local police wear uniforms, carry registered weapons and should be on the government payroll. Some of these militias operate without government guidance, command or control. However, the proliferation of these local and private bodies attests to deficiencies in the strength and quality of the regular Afghan security forces and lack of public confidence in the army and police.

Americans say this is not a new concept of protecting the civilian population from insurgents; this concept has historical precedents in South East Asia. Britain in Malaysia and the US in Vietnam applied this strategy successfully. In Afghanistan, the story is less different as experts expressed concern that this strategy can strengthen war criminals and damage the rule of law.

In Iraq, they armed Sunni militias and thus the insurgency was quelled. This is not true. The same story is being repeated in Afghanistan to arm tribal militias, empower them legally and use them against the Taliban insurgents. According to a UN report, a local militia that is expected to replace Australian troops after their withdrawal from Oruzgan province is loyal to local war criminals rather than the Afghan government. Since the International military intervention in Afghanistan, the US and NATO have been attempting to tackle the Taliban insurgency through private militias. All these plans and strategies are based on misconception.

After the failure of all US strategies, private militias’ brutality, and persistent insecurity, there is growing consensus among the Afghan population that the US and NATO allies are pursuing flawed military strategies of arming war criminals and militias under the banner of the ‘Afghan local police’, which will harm the prospects of peace and security in the future.

Americans say that in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, various Afghan governments were relying upon tribal militias and other organised auxiliary units in maintaining state security. The growing reliance of Dr Najibullah’s regime on the Dostum militia (Gelam Jam militia) underlined the weakness of his government in the 1990s. All privately developed militias like the Andrabi militia, Ismatullah Muslim militia, Tajik and Pashtun war criminals militias, were the weaknesses and inabilities of the Afghan governments that could not maintain their credibility and effectiveness.

In summation, by 2014, the Afghan national army may suffer from more ethnic and sectarian problems and will not be able to fight various local warlords and their militias. To overcome all these drawbacks and military weaknesses, President Obama once again announced the revision of his Afghan war strategy with the transfer of his top national security and intelligence officials.

The writer is author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at

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