Local Forces In Afghanistan To Fight Taliban

After two weeks of discussions, the Afghan government has agreed to a NATO plan that would stand up village defense forces in areas where international forces and the Afghan army have very little presence. President Hamid Karzai had initially resisted the idea, warning that such groups could become militias in a country already plagued by warlordism.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

After 12 days of discussion, the Afghan government has agreed to a NATO proposal. It is a plan to stand up village defense forces across Afghanistan in places where international troops and the Afghan army have little presence.

President Hamid Karzai initially resisted the idea, warning that such groups could become militias in a country already plagued by warlords. But the new commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, apparently persuaded President Karzai that such a force is necessary, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: The idea of recruiting a local force to fight the Taliban in their own communities has a history in Afghanistan. Along the border with Pakistan, tribal forces have previously been recruited to assist U.S. soldiers. The plan also echoes the awakening in Iraq, where Sunni-Arab tribesmen, many of them former insurgents, changed sides and fought against al-Qaida in Iraq. General Petraeus presided over that successful venture.

But the history of these sort of paramilitary groups in Afghanistan is loaded with negative examples. Similar efforts in the past gave rise to the same warlords who many Afghans blame for the instability in their country today.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar says the new force will not become a militia beholden to a local warlord.

Mr. WAHEED OMAR (Spokesman for President Hamid Karzai): They will not be reporting to any local commander. They will not be anybody's people. But they will be recruited individually, paid individually. So we are now talking about a police force, but a local police force.

LAWRENCE: But the force seems very much a work in progress. Omar said the Ministry of Interior is still trying to decide how to vet soldiers and how many will begin the abbreviated training course to be issued guns and uniforms.

Afghan human rights activists are already expressing concerns that with a police force widely considered to be corrupt and ineffective, a less well-trained force might not help.

While details about the new force are scant, the agreement today might reveal more about the budding relationship between President Karzai and General Petraeus. Petraeus apparently raised the issue of a local protection force with Karzai in their first meeting since taking over the new command less than two weeks ago. This prompted frank and candid discussions, a common euphemism for disagreement.

The deal today, according to spokesman Waheed Omar, shows that Karzai and the general are off to a good start.

Mr. OMAR: There is quite a very good understanding between General Petraeus and our government. And I think, oh yes, this is an indication of how important it is for all of us to work with each other as partners and to listen to each other.

LAWRENCE: And that is welcome news to General Petraeus, who has taken command at the height of the fighting season. With more NATO casualties in southern Afghanistan today, July is set to be among the bloodiest months for foreign troops since the 2001 invasion.

Part of the exit strategy is to get more Afghan police and soldiers, and now local policemen, involved in the fight.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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