(Kabul) – President Barack Obama should halt plans by the US military to expand the Afghan Local Police program until significant reforms are made in training, supervision, and accountability, Human Rights Watch said today. On December 10, 2011, the commander of US Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven, suggested in a media briefing that the Afghan Local Police (ALP), locally based paramilitary units, would be increased from its current strength of 9,800 to more than 30,000.
A September 2011 Human Rights Watch report, “Just Don’t Call it a Militia: Impunity, Militias, and the ‘Afghan Local Police,’” detailed abuses by the ALP and various militias created or supported by the US since the defeat of Taliban rule in 2001. The report, while acknowledging that ALP units had contributed recently to improved security in some areas, documented serious abuses by ALP and other US-backed forces in several provinces, including looting, illegal detention, beatings, killings, sexual assault, and extortion. The report also described how the establishment of the ALP had inflamed ethnic tensions in some areas.
“The Afghan Local Police needs to be fixed before it can be expanded,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of rushing to triple the size of the Afghan Local Police, the US and Afghan governments should be adopting mechanisms to ensure these forces abide by the law.”
The Afghan government has not yet confirmed McRaven’s statement. When it approved the ALP program in 2010, the government set a target of 10,000 members.
In response to the Human Rights Watch report, the US military in October ordered an investigation into the alleged abuses. An unclassified summary of the results released on December 15 stated that the investigation substantiated in whole or in part many of Human Rights Watch’s allegations. The US military report also contained general findings, including:
- “There is a need for increased awareness of what constitutes improper conduct.”
- “ALP procedures do not specifically address policy or procedures to discipline or fire ALP members.”
- There is “friction between ANP [Afghan National Police] and ALP units in the field.”
The report also includes recommendations that echo many of the key recommendations from the Human Rights Watch report. These include:
- “[I]ncrease emphasis on the understanding of local power dynamics when considering where to locate ALP operations, how to staff them, and how to evaluate them over time. In areas where the ALP location lies on a seam between rivals, employ additional assets to monitor and mentor the ALP.”
- “[F]urther develop the ALP Program of Instruction (POI) to include definitions of human rights abuses and practical methods to prevent human rights violations.”
- “[T]here is a need to clearly define force jurisdiction.”
- “[T]he MOI [Ministry of Interior] should position a senior ANP to partner with CFSOCC-A [Coalition Forces Special Operations Command] elements to put a ‘local face’ on oversight and coordination. . . . This will allow for transparency of operations for ALP and an outlet for dispute resolution between ANP and ALP that is not Special Forces.”
- “Procedures should be established that provide for follow up and rectification of wrongdoings by police. This should include an investigation unit.”
- “[A]dd a section in the ALP procedures on discipline and firing of ALP members.”
- “[C]ontinue to develop capacity for investigation of allegations of ALP or ANP abuses.”
“An investigation ordered by a senior US commander in the field has found numerous weaknesses in the Afghan Local Police program,” Adams said. “The priority should be to create mechanisms to ensure proper training, supervision, and accountability so that the Afghan Local Police does not become just another abusive militia.”
Since the Human Rights Watch report was issued in September, there have been new problems with the ALP. Recent media reports documented a fatal armed clash between ALP and ANP in Baghlan Province in August. Other violent clashes involving members of ALP units included an incident in Herat Province in which two people were killed. Human Rights Watch is also investigating numerous other new allegations, including new cases of assault, extortion, intimidation, and illegal taxation.
ALP units, which are established under the leadership of local commanders and often recruit members of a single ethnic or tribal background, have also exacerbated ethnic tensions in some parts of the country, triggering instability and local conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. In reports recently presented to the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Norwegian Refugee Council both cited abuses by the ALP as a factor in a 51 percent increase in displacement of Afghans in the first 10 months of 2011 compared with the same time period in 2010.
ALP units operate without proper oversight and lack effective mechanisms to investigate and respond to abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The review system to vet incoming ALP members and leaders relies on local leaders who can be vulnerable to intimidation and threats. As a result, units in some places are no more than the militias of local warlords, re-designated as ALP with the legitimacy of US support, including uniforms and pay.
The US and other countries should continue to focus on training regular Afghan military and police forces so they can provide security to the Afghan people, Human Rights Watch said.
Although the Afghan government’s original target for the ALP was 10,000, the Obama administration sought and received funding from the US Congress for a total of 30,000 ALP, the number now proposed by the US military. Human Rights Watch noted a recent World Bank report that raised concerns about the sustainability of Afghan security forces, which currently number over 300,000 and cost over US$8 billion annually. The World Bank report warned that costs for security forces at this level may endanger funding for education and healthcare.
“Now is the time for some long-term thinking,” Adams said. “What will happen when donors are unwilling to continue to pay the salaries of the Afghan Local Police and other security forces? What will be the consequences of tens of thousands of unemployed well-armed men in uniforms? What’s the plan?”