Afghan Local Police remain key to Coalition strategy

With the endorsement of Marine Lieutenant General John Allen, the incoming commander of Coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan Local Police program, which was started under the previous commander, General David Petreaus, will be significantly expanded from its initial target of 10,000 local police to a new target of 30,000.

In his briefing to Congress on March 15, 2011, General 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.” In light of the recent announcement of a further expansion to the program, it is now an important part of General Allen’s campaign also.


As LWJ reported in March 2011, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program is intended to support local forces in the defense of their own villages. 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 described 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 underlying purpose of the ALP is to enable 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, however, 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.

Initially, US Special Operations Force trainers are assigned to each unit, along with Afghan Interior Ministry personnel.

Expansion of the ALP program

The ALP initiative started as an experimental program in July 2010 with a target of fielding 10,000 local police. By October 2010, the program was considered an initial success. It received Afghan President Karzai’s endorsement and the target was increased from 10,0000 to 20,000 in 70 districts overall. With the greater number of ALP, additional resources were also assigned to supplement the SOF trainers. This included a conventional US Army battalion and the newly formed Afghan Special Operation Forces.

ALP has continued to demonstrate success. Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Smith, an assistant commanding general at the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, said that “[w]here we have them trained and fully employed the Taliban is not re-emerging.” Marine Major General John Toolan, commander of Regional Command Southwest, observed that “[o]nce you got that [insurgents] can’t hide.” And Marine Lieutenant General John Allen endorsed the program earlier this week, stating: “Because this program has been so effective in denying terrain to the Taliban, the enemy has explicitly targeted it.”

Consequently, a further expansion to 30,000 was authorized this week.

The ALP currently has 6,500 recruits in 41 districts.


Initially, there was significant skepticism over the ALP program. Three previous programs to establish local security forces were not very successful. The Afghan government was reluctant to launch this fourth attempt, concerned that the population would see such an effort as empowering local warlords and militias. However, past problems seem to have been overcome sufficiently to now yield a useful program. While the ALP program is not without its problems and risks, the continuing endorsement, expansion, and increasing allocation of resources is evidence that it is nevertheless proving to be a useful program.

Even so, this program must be kept in perspective. No matter how successful, it cannot be considered the solution to insurgency by itself; it is only a useful adjunct. At 30,000, the ALP will still be small compared to the regular ANSF (which will grow to 352,000). Even if eventually expanded to the 50,000 over 110 districts that General Petraeus speculated was possible, it will still be a small, albeit important, component of the overall strategy. Still, with the coming drawdown of US and Coalition forces, the ANSF will need all the help it can get.

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