Afghans Wary Of Building Up Local Policing Forces U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for the rapid creation of local community watch programs in order for U.S. forces to draw down. But many Afghans are reluctant to create yet another armed group in a fractured country.
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Afghans Wary Of Building Up Local Policing Forces

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Afghans Wary Of Building Up Local Policing Forces

Afghans Wary Of Building Up Local Policing Forces

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

To hear Vice President Joe Biden tell it, American troops in Afghanistan have arrested the momentum of the Taliban insurgency. Biden was just there. He also said that U.S. troops would start leaving as Afghan troop numbers build up. To help make that happen, American commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for the rapid creation of local community police forces. Of course, that means creating yet another armed group in a fractured country.

NPR's Quil Lawrence is traveling with American soldiers in the eastern province of Ghazni.

QUIL LAWRENCE: About 100 miles south of Kabul, Ghazni province is a world away from the capital. The province is mostly Pashtun. On election day last year, Taliban threats kept voters away from the few polling stations considered safe enough to open. One hundred ten thousand people live here in Andar district. Exactly three of them went to cast a vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF POUNDING)

LAWRENCE: The soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 187th infantry, travel everywhere outside their tiny fort in titanic, mine-resistant trucks. For the four months they've been here in Andar district, they've skirmished almost every day. Lieutenant Colonel David Fivecoat speaks of the enemy in personal terms.

DAVID FIVECOAT: After four months of tough fighting, we've attrited his capabilities and have begun the slow process of every counterinsurgency of turning the control back over to the government.

LAWRENCE: But it's not the first time NATO troops have tried to take back Andar District from the Taliban, and it's not the second time. In 2006, the U.S. Army's Operation Mountain Fury was supposed to clear Ghazni province. So were sporadic raids in 2007. U.S. soldiers from the 187th got here in September, replacing Polish NATO soldiers. But now the strategy is different.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKENS CLUCKING)

LAWRENCE: Chickens scatter in the yard, as Captain Aaron T. Schwengler and a platoon of B Company soldiers enter the farmyard of a village elder, in a hamlet called Bangi. With soldiers on the roof keeping watch, Schwengler takes off his helmet and sits on the ground for tea.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

AARON T: We appreciate the hospitality, having us here in Bangi. It's always nice to come here, because we don't get shot at. And I appreciate that.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Schwengler isn't joking, and the elders don't laugh. He can't say that about many villages in the district. Bangi is close enough to Bravo Company's base that the Taliban shy away from it. Schwengler has promised money to rebuild irrigation canals in the village, and he's asked about building a school here - which Bangi hasn't had since the 1970s. But he wants something in return.

SCHWENGLER: President Karzai, along with the leaders of the coalition forces, have developed a program called the community watch program.

LAWRENCE: Schwengler is hoping to recruit, pay and arm a squad of the new community watch program. The program has changed its name several times since summer, but it's based on the one in Iraq that helped turn the tide against al- Qaida. B Company has been canvassing the local villages, hoping to get elders to come to their base for a shura, a council, to start forming the village guard.

MUHAMMAD: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: One village elder, Muhammad, says he agrees with everything that Captain Schwengler and the local district governor want to do, and he promises to come to the shura to discuss it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

LAWRENCE: But two days later, shura day, it's only the two elders from Bangi who turn up at the base. Schwengler says the other villages are too scared to show.

SCHWENGLER: The Taliban come in after we did and told them not to support the shura and not to show up.

LAWRENCE: Even the elders from Bangi have reservations about the program.

MUHAMMAD: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: We tried that program during the Russian occupation, says Muhammad, and when we armed people, they went and joined the insurgency.

The elders leave the base with a promise to consider it, especially if other villages go first.

SCHWENGLER: And if one village does it, others will follow. It's just a matter of that one village being brave enough, and do it successfully.

LAWRENCE: Captain Schwengler got some more encouraging news the following day. A few dozen elders did meet with the captain off base and at the invitation of the district governor. They started talking about setting up a community watch, but no one has signed up yet.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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