April 2011 AP Photo: Afghan Local Police, and villagers listen to a speech during a ceremony presenting new uniforms for ALP officers at Gizab village of Uruzgan province south west of Kabul, Afghanistan.
On March 15, 2011, Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee about an "important new addition to the overall campaign" in Afghanistan -- the Afghan Local Police Initative (ALP). This week, Oxfam issued a report damning the program for gross abuses including child sexual abuse (including the pedophiliac pratice of "dancing boys"), torture and killing and recommended it be halted until it stops operating as an extra-legal force, and its members are better vetted.
Could Dr. General have created a multi-headed militia-monster? That's certainly not what the top Afghanistan commander described to the Senate earlier this spring.
In the official version, the ALP program, which began last year, is seen as a means to "thicken" security, as Gen. Caldwelll has put it. Rather more picturesquely, Gen. Petraeus told the Senate the ALP is "a community watch with AK-47s."
The request for each ALP force is supposed to come from each community. In a recent AP story, US Special Forces brought Afghan officials into one such community to, in effect, request such a request. If the locals go for the ALP pitch, US Special Forces presumably start pulling things together. According to Petraeus' testimony, some 70 districts are currently establishing ALP forces consisting of 300 members each. The program seems to be part of a larger US plan taking shape that envisions security in Afghanistan as being increasingly fortified by these local milititas.
Why do I hear a warning bell ringing? For exactly reasons Oxfam has raised in its report, which include the fact that some of these communities already see ALP as "local gangs" against whom they have no legal recourse in the event of abuse.
But, but ... how could that be? Petraeus described the ALPs as coming "under the local District Chief of Police."
He said members were "nominated by a representative Shura Council."
He said members were "vetted by the Afghan intel service and trained by and partnered with Afghan Police and US Special Forces elements."
What could possibly go wrong?
From the Oxfam report:
In theory, the program is established only on community request, recruits are nominated by shuras (community leadership structures) and are carefully vetted and commanders report to the district chief of police. Reports are mixed as to the extent to which this reflects the reality on the ground. Some communities report that it is local warlords ( not "communities") that request the ALP; and while selection is in some cases is done through the shuras, in many cases the shuras are made up of former mujahedeen, commanders who use the program as a means by which to provide their own militias with salaries and a cloak of legitimacy. In other cases, the shura process is circumvented altogether, with selection done by local commanders operating independently of the shuras.
Oxfam links some of these critiques to ringer ALP forces, instances where non-sanctioned village militias are claiming to be part of the ALP program and operating as such -- and "often with the support of a district governor looking for a quick fix to insecurity."
Criminality high and low -- at $350 million a day.