In his briefing to Congress on March 15, General David Petraeus stated that the “Afghan Local Police initiative was an important addition to the overall campaign” to secure the war-torn country and deny the Taliban control in key districts.
Purpose of the ALP
General Petraeus’ campaign plan calls for providing security to the population for 80 “critical” districts. However, the forces available to the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Security Forces are insufficient to cover all of the areas within these districts. Although the ANSF is growing, it will be several years before it reaches the required size. In the meantime, there will be areas where security forces are weak or non-existent that the Taliban could exploit. Local villagers can try to protect themselves, but in most cases they do not have the capacity to stand up to the Taliban on their own.
The purpose of the ALP is to provide a short term solution to the shortage of ANSF and ISAF forces. The initiative provides support to local armed villagers so they can provide security for their own villages.
History and issues of local defense forces
The ALP constitutes the third attempt by ISAF to create local defense forces. The earlier initiatives illustrated the problems with creating such a force.
The first initiative, begun in 2007, was the Afghan Auxiliary Police (AAP). This initiative was quickly implemented with little oversight or resources provided. The result was a poorly trained and equipped force that spent more time preying on locals than defending them. In addition, command was appropriated by local strongmen whose interests did not necessarily coincide with those of the Afghan government. The project was abandoned.
The second initiative, which started in early 2009, was the Afghan Public Protection Police (AP3). The AP3 addressed issues with the AAP. It was both heavily supervised and heavily supported. It was run by the Afghan Ministry of Interior. Training and equipment was provided by ISAF. The project was more successful in producing an effective force. However, it required so many resources and so much time that it created forces far too slowly. Of the original plan for 10,000, only 1,200 AP3 were fielded in 1.5 years.
The current initiative, the Afghan Local Police, was launched in July 2010. It adapts the lessons learned from the first two initiatives. More resources have been provided, with more community involvement and more specialized training skills, including participation of US Special Operations Forces. As part of the initiative, the AP3 will be rolled into the ALP.
The ALP initiative is intended to support local forces in the defense of their own villages. Individual units have no authority outside their own village.
The initiative is limited in size to ensure that the units created can be sufficiently supported. This is currently sized to be 70 districts with about 300 ALP per district, a total of about 20,000.
The ALP are expected to perform only limited duties. “The intent is not to make them a military capability force, but just give them enough training to thicken the security,” said Lieutenant General William Caldwell, the commander of the NATO Training Mission. General Petraeus describes the ALP as a “night watch with AK-47’s”. They are expected to man checkpoints, detain individuals and turn them over to regular forces, and to provide intelligence on Taliban activities. For other issues, they are expected to call in ANSF or ISAF for support. The intent is to allow villages to resist intimidation and to prevent the Taliban from creating safe havens.
The operation of the ALP is designed to be complementary to existing ANSF operations, not to replace them. ALP units are set up in villages near existing ANSF outposts, thereby extending security beyond areas covered by the ANSF. This proximity allows the ANSF to provide prompt reinforcements to the ALP if needed.
The ALP is expected to be a temporary program with a lifespan of approximately two years. By then, the ANSF is projected to have grown to sufficient size to allow regular ANSF forces to replace the ALP. And at that point, members of the ALP deemed to be effective would be given the option of receiving regular training and joining the ANSF.
Areas selected to participate in the ALP initiative go through a vetting process. The application process requires village leaders to formally request participation in the program. In other words, the village has to want to participate. This is followed by an Afghan government visit to validate that the village’s need is legitimate.
Once the village has been selected for participation, local tribal leaders recommend recruits. They must then be approved by the ISAF trainers and the district chief of police. Recruits must be from their home village and must pass background checks. Recruits are on probation for a year, and ISAF can blacklist someone against whom they have evidence of criminal or insurgent activies.
US Special Operations Force trainers are assigned to each unit, along with Afghan Interior Ministry personnel. Training may take from 5 days to 3 weeks. Units are paid through the Ministry of Interior, and participants are paid 60% of an Afghan National Policeman’s salary. Equipment provided consists of AK-47 rifles, radios, and uniforms.
The ALP units report though the Ministry of Interior chain of command through the local district Chief of Police.
At the beginning of the program, the target was 10,000 police. In October 2010, this was revised upward to 20,000. With the greater number of ALP to be fielded, it was no longer possible to assign a US Special Forces team to mentor every ALP unit, so a conventional US Army battalion, as well as Afghan special forces, was assigned to supplement the SOF.
Currently, there are 70 districts identified for ALP participation, with each district authorized about 300 ALP members. At present, 27 ALP units have been validated for full operations, and the other 43 units are in various stages of being established. General Petraeus has speculated that the ALP might be expanded to 50,000 with 40 additional districts (110 districts in total).
The initiative has been in effect for eight months. As might be expected, reports from the field have been mixed, ranging from “glowing praise to condemnation and fear“.
“In some cases, they have ‘flipped’ communities who once even actively supported the Taliban,” Petraeus said in October 2010.
However, there have also been also cases in which safeguard procedures are not being followed. “The recruits in western Herat province’s Shindand district are precisely those who are supposed to be kept out,” said Lal Mohammad Omerzai, the head of the district government. “These people who have been recruited up to this point, they are not good people. They have criminal backgrounds.” He said that police officials consulted community leaders for the first three days, then dumped the procedure.