The Afghan Public Protection Force pilot program is underway

Graphic from The Economist, December 12, 2008.

The Government of Afghanistan has begun a program to train a new Afghan force called the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF). Media reports so far have provided fragmentary, incomplete descriptions of the program. This has allowed some inaccurate speculation by critics and supporters alike. This report will attempt to provide a more complete description of the APPF, including goals, implementation strategy, and associated risks.

Why is the APPF being created?

The Taliban have staged a comeback over the last few years. The number of attacks in Afghanistan continues to rise as the security situation destabilizes. Important areas are slipping out of the government’s control. In places like Logar and Wardak, two provinces just south of Kabul, government control is tenuous except in district centers.

There are currently insufficient security forces – Afghan, US, and International Security Assistance Force – to deal with the worsening situation. While commanders would like to field more fully trained Afghan Army and Police forces immediately, these forces are simply not available. New Afghan forces are being trained but they will not be ready for action in sufficiently large numbers any time soon. The creation of the APPF is a response to this shortfall in Afghan troops. It is an attempt to quickly provide some forces to fill the gap while additional Afghan National Army and Police are being trained.

The APPF plan calls for fielding some lightly armed, quickly trained gunmen associated with tribes. They will be used in important areas where the government is in danger of losing control.

The APPF is not expected to be a stand-alone organization. It is one part of a larger, three-pillar, organization designed to support police functions. The first pillar is the regular Afghan Uniform Police (AUP). The problem is that the AUP have too often been assigned basic tasks such as protecting roads, schools, and government buildings. They are reduced to being guards. So the second pillar, the APPF, will release the AUP from these functions. The goal is not to create a “tribal militia” but something closer to a “neighborhood watch,” albeit one more concerned about preventing beheadings and school burnings than burglaries. The final pillar is the Anti-Crime Division to provide investigative services (i.e., police detectives). So, for example, the district of Panjwai would have approximately 90 Afghan Uniform Police supported by six Anti-Crime Division investigators and 200 APPF.

The APPF program is meant to be a temporary organization while the training of regular Afghan National Police catches up with the need. APPF members who prove trustworthy and capable will have the opportunity to transfer to the Afghan National Army and Police. But once there is a sufficient number of trained Afghan National Police, the program will be disbanded.

What is the APPF intended to accomplish?

There is significant disagreement on the potential effectiveness of a quickly trained and lightly armed force. There is also significant disagreement on how to implement the program. There is even the possibility that this kind of program could make security worse. These are all valid concerns. Every counterinsurgency operation is different. What works in other theaters, such as the Iraqi Awakening, may not work in Afghanistan.

The fundamental problem is that nobody really knows what the best implementation plan would be or how effective this kind of force would be. In Afghanistan, there have been similar programs that have failed, notably the Afghan National Auxiliary Police, or ANAP. The ANAP program was started in 2006 and shut down in 2008 because it turned out to be a divisive militia, often biased toward a particular tribe and manned by a large number of drug addicts and petty criminals.

On the other hand, there have been other implementations that have been successful, notably the Arbakai tribal forces in Paktia province. In this case, neither the Taliban nor foreign forces have a presence. There are just 30 police officers for the entire area, and it is left to the Arbakai to defend the local population. This volunteer force is part of a traditional code of conduct and honor called Pashtunwali. The area is stable and there is a good relationship between the people and the government.

The APPF program acknowledges that these uncertainties exist and that they pose a substantial risk. To address it, APPF will not be implemented on a wide scale immediately. First it will be a small experimental pilot program. Initially, the primary goal will not be to improve security per se; it will be to determine how to implement a program that works. It will provide experience to decide between which of the following two options is true.

1. The APPF program can be made to work. A feasible implementation strategy has been defined. The program can be expanded to a larger number of Afghan districts, with confidence that it will improve security.

2. Many different implementation methods have been tried, but even applied well, they cannot be made to work. The APPF program should be abandoned.

Implementation of the APPF pilot program

The initial implementation for the APPF pilot program will be modeled on the traditional tribal Arbakais. This implementation is described below; however, it is subject to change as experience shows what works and what does not.

The program will be run by the Afghan Ministry of Interior and will be under the normal chain of command in the province. Tribal power brokers in selected areas will be invited to agree to a “contract.” The government, backed by ISAF, will undertake to provide security, bring economic development, and give each tribal council a greater say in the running of local affairs. In return, the tribes will promise to expel and deter insurgents, and to provide recruits for a local force that would perform guard duties.

All recruits must be between 25 and 45years old, fit, free of drug use, without a criminal record, and actually from the district they are recruited to serve in. There must be no overt tribal or ethnic dimension to the selection process. All recruits will be subjected to background check. Each recruit will receive three weeks of training, which will include classes on values, ethics, police law, use of force, human rights, and first aid. Each recruit will be equipped with one assault rifle, ammunition, and a uniform. Each unit will be issued white Ford Ranger pickup trucks marked “APPF,” plus communication gear. The US military will fund vehicles, communications, and clothing. The weapons will be provided by the Afghan Ministry of Interior. Pay will start at $100 monthly, rising to a maximum of $250 for an APPF captain.

The APPF will be accountable to the Minister of Interior through the district governor and supervised by the Afghan National Police.

The APPF are to provide “public protection” but not “law enforcement.” The APPF will have no legal powers of arrest and will only detain suspects for handover to uniform police. They are expected to protect the people, key government facilities, key government personnel, and critical infrastructure and to disrupt insurgent activities and facilitate development. They are also expected to provide intelligence on Taliban and insurgent movements that American and Afghan forces can act on.

The APPF pilot program calls for approximately 8,000 members in 40 districts. Five districts at a time are being trained with about 200 members per district, with each class lasting three weeks. Training started in early February and should finish by July 2009.

The APPF pilot program’s first priority is to ensure control of the ring-road, Afghanistan’s main artery, around which the main population centers are concentrated, focusing on areas along the highway from the capital Kabul to Kandahar, the main city in the south. The first units will be organized in Saydabad district of Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.

The APPF pilot program should be sufficiently advanced by this summer to allow some early evaluation of its performance.

Summary and prognosis

• The APPF program will not provide security all by itself. It is one of several security programs.

• The APPF pilot program is small. Approximately 8,000 will be trained over about six months in 40 out of 365 Afghan districts.

• The APPF pilot program is an experimental program. The program implementation will evolve over time as experience is gained.

• If it can be made to work, the APPF pilot program will be expanded. If it cannot, it will be ended. We should have some early indications by this summer.

• Even if successful, the fully implemented APPF program is still expected to be temporary. APPF members will eventually be integrated into the Afghan National Army and Police.

There is no guarantee APPF will be a success or a failure. If it fails, the costs of the small pilot program will have been limited. If it succeeds, the potential benefit from a future expanded program could be large.



  • Alex says:

    This sounds kind of like an Afghanistan version of Sons of Iraq.

  • Outstanding, CJ. This is what I have been looking for since December.
    “The initial implementation for the APPF pilot program will be modeled on the traditional tribal Arbakais.”
    Great, this ought to work in valleys and districts where people still follow tribal traditions. Almost 50 years ago Civilian Irregular Defense Groups were raised among the Montagnards of the Central Highlands of Vietnam and used with considerable success. Afghanistan isn’t Vietnam, or Iraq, but Armed Supportive Groups raised from the same tribes that supply most of the manpower for the Armed Opposition Groups have worked before in other counterinsurgencies. Irregular auxiliaries by themselves aren’t war winners, but they help. The military aged males are going to be recruited by somebody. Why not give our side some enlistment options other than ANA and ANP?
    There must be no overt tribal or ethnic dimension to the selection process.
    I see a disconnect here. Arbakais are a Pashtun thing. The tribes that promise to expel and deter insurgents, and to provide recruits for a local force that would perform guard duties are Pashtun tribes. APPF has great potential to work in ethnically homogenous locales where everybody respects the local Jirga and tries to live by the Code. Saydabad district may be like that, but many districts have Hazaras and Tajiks in various levels of independence from or subjugation to Pashtun dominance.

  • KnightHawk says:

    It does indeed, lets hope it’s is equally effective. Worth a shot.

  • cjr says:

    Sorry to harp on this, but it is central to understanding APPF.
    Rememeber that all insurgencies are different. APPF could start out like SoI, but it is possible, even likely, that it will end up as something very different. The goal is not to create something similar to SoI, it is to create something that works whatever that may turn out to be.

  • LisaN says:

    Dear Mr. Radin

    I’m curious about the success of the Arbakai tribal forces in Paktia province, and I’m going to ask some stupid questions. You tie the Arbakai success to the traditional code of conduct and honor of their tribe, but aren’t such tribal codes prominent throughout Afghanistan? Is there something more that the Arbakai have right –a particular characteristic or cultural element to how well they are doing at securing their area-such as a history of honoring contracts or compacts? Or is it strong tribal leadership and antipathy toward the Taliban? I guess I just would like to know if there is some essential element present with the Arbakai that we either have to cultivate or create in the other areas and tribes where the APPF is being implemented.


  • cjr says:

    We need to be very careful about changing long standing traditions. APPF is meant to be implemented quickly. We dont have time (nor do we want to create the risks) to cultivate or create anything new. We need to use what is already there. One reason that Arbakai is being put forward is persisly because tribal code is prominent thoughout Afghanistan.
    If harnessing Arbakai works, great. If it doesent, then we will abandon trying to use it.

  • jhs says:

    There also seems to be a lot of confusion within the donor community in Kabul about the scope of the APPF, nominally under MoI as you point out, and its relationship to the wider Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP), which is being run by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG). Donors appear much more willing to support the latter than the former. In April, the UK’s DFID claimed that APPF would not be armed – contradicting press coverage from late 2008.
    The ability of MoI to monitor the APPF is questionable, as is the ability of IDLG/MoI to vet its members – though I’ve also seen reports about NDS involvement.
    APPF is supposed to be temporary – I hope someone is giving some thought to how to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate them once the time comes…


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