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Afghanistan considers arming 'village warriors' to fight Taliban and IS insurgency

Afghan government forces have been dangerously overstretched [AFP]

Date of publication: 17 September, 2017

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The Afghan government could form a vast paramilitary system by arming 20,000 civilians to defend territories re-captured from the Taliban and Islamic State group.

Thousands of Afghan civilians could be given weapons to help combat the rise of the Taliban and Islamic State group, despite fears the move could escalate violence in the war-torn country.

Afghanistan is mulling over the idea of arming and training 20,000 civilians to defend territories recently won back from insurgents, according to AFP.

But analysts fear the weapons could end up in the wrong hand and that local forces could become another thuggish militia with tribal leaders ruling over mini fiefdoms.

The idea is that these paramilitary fighters would defend their own communities from Taliban and the Islamic State group militants.

Afghan security forces have been demoralised by killings, undercover attacks and desertions, and appear no closer to defeating the insurgency.

Experts fear arming civilians will exasperate the problems for Afghan forces.

"The Afghan government's expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians," said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch told AFP.

She fears that "powerful strongmen" will emerge from this or that Afghans will become "dependent on local patronage networks".

'Better trained'

US and Afghan officials assured AFP that the fighters would come under the command of the Afghan army and be better trained than the Afghan Local Police.

This village-level force was set up by the US in 2010 and has also been accused of human rights violations.

"Right now we rely on commandos and air strikes to retake the lost territories but after the commandos leave we don't have enough forces to hold onto the territories," a senior defence official told the news agency.

"The force will operate under an army corps and will be used to fill the gaps. They will be recruited from the locals and will be numbered around 20,000."

The Afghan government's expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians
- Patricia Gossman, Human Rights Watch

Defence Ministry Spokesman Dawlat Waziri confirmed to AFP that a plan for "local forces" was being discussed.

"People will be recruited from their areas because they know their regions and how to keep them," Waziri said, but added there was no guarantee it would be implemented.

NATO also confirmed the proposal for an Afghan territorial army - modelled on the Indian Territorial Army - was on the table.

Another US official said the idea was still at "the brainstorming phase".

Kabul is currently relying on a 330,000-strong Afghan National Security and Defence Forces militia force to battle the Taliban and IS insurgency.

Yet militias have a long and checked history in Afghanistan with many linked to war crimes and leading to rise of the Taliban.

More killing

Civilian casualties have skyrocketed this year as the insurgency intensifies.

The Islamic State group have also been on the rise, with a reputation for extreme brutality.

In February, only 60 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts were reported to be under government control, according to the US watchdog agency SIGAR.​

Afghanistan is looking to double its elite fighting force from 17,000 to help combat the new threats.

The US has also promised to ramp up its support for the Afghan government, with more troops are entering the country while air strikes are on the increase.


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