We still seem to be a ways off from the Sons of Afghanistan. At a forum sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, I asked Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan defense minister, to give some detail about how a controversial new auxiliary security force is different from a government (or U.S.-) supported tribal milita.
The new entity, known as the Afghan Public Protection Force, is going to begin as a pilot program in Wardak Province, a central province that hosts part of the vital Highway 1 route to Kabul. Defense Minister Wardak said that the APPF was a response to the “pressing need for more troops on the ground” to protect the civilian population from Taliban attacks. Run through the Ministry of the Interior, representatives of the Afghan government will ask “30 to 40 influential people” in the province to nominate between 200 and 300 people to provide “public protection” but not “law enforcement.” The force will be under the normal chain of command established by the ministry in the province. Pressed by Politico’s David Cloud, Wardak said that the program could be expanded to “high threat areas.”
But Wardak didn’t appear entirely comfortable with the idea. He said that the Interior Ministry would need to “exercise maximum caution” to ensure that the program does not “create a new warlord or reinforce the old ones.” He explained the program was an emergency response to shortfalls in U.S., NATO and Afghan troops, and indicated that he thought the APPF program needed to be temporary. Recruits who prove “trustworthy [and] capable” will have opportunities to join the Afghan national army and police. But the program would ultimately be “disintegrated.”
This is worth watching. Much of the international effort in Afghanistan after the Taliban fled Kabul centered on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of militias, and “militia” remains a dirty word in Afghanistan. Experimenting with auxiliary security forces, even under ministerial control, is a gamble. Wardak said in his opening remarks that abandoning “a strong central government” would mean “falling into the trap the enemy has laid.” He emphasized the risks of the approach as much as he did the opportunities it provides.
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