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(Washington, DC) - US President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan plan needs to strengthen civilian protection through ending the impunity and warlordism that have fuelled the insurgency, Human Rights Watch said today.

There is no magic number of US troops that will bring security to Afghanistan," said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. "What matters is what the troops are there to do, and how they can enhance a long-term strategy to improve Afghans' human rights."

Human Rights Watch said that the recent focus of the US government on corruption and rule of law in Afghanistan is long overdue, and will require sustained institutional reform. Improving governance and rule of law depends upon a clear strategy for combating corruption, removing warlords, and holding rights violators accountable. 

"If the US wants Afghans to have a government they can believe in, there needs to be effective mechanisms for bringing human rights abusers to justice," said Reid. 

Human Rights Watch said plans to focus on building the capacity of the Afghan army and police are encouraging, but pointed out that expansion ambitions need to be restricted to a force that is sustainably sized with sufficient training to ensure basic rights protections. The police should be capable of fighting crime as well as providing security against insurgents. 

Human Rights Watch expressed concern regarding the US military's interest in increasing use of tribal militias through the Afghan Public Protection Force and the Community Defense Initiative. Previous attempts to foster such auxiliary forces in Afghanistan have shown that they can increase insecurity and human rights abuses if recruits have little training, vague rules of engagement, and a weak chain of command. 

In November the US Congress agreed to allow the US military to use unspecified sums from a 2010 $1.2 billion fund for "reintegration" programs with insurgent factions, without identifying who or how such programs will be implemented. 

A poorly implemented program using large sums of cash to buy the short-term allegiance of fighters has the potential to add to the corruption and empowerment of malign actors," said Reid. "Improving security, governance, and the rule of law will take time - there are no shortcuts."    

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