South Asia

Karzai approves new Afghan local defence force

Afghan National Police officer in Kandahar 14 July 10
Image caption The new force will support the Afghan National Police where security is a problem

Controversial US-backed plans for a new Afghan local defence force to help fight the Taliban have been approved by President Hamid Karzai.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says US commander Gen David Petraeus has been keen to use village militia to fight insurgents.

President Karzai had at first resisted the plan fearing the armed groups might increase the power of local warlords.

But in a deal with Nato, the force will report to the Afghan interior ministry.

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) is facing mounting casualties as it takes on the Taliban in its southern heartland.

Isaf wants Afghan forces to take on a greater role in security ahead of a gradual withdrawal of international forces, beginning next year.

Mr Karzai's spokesman, Hamid Elmi, said the size of the Local Police Force (LPF), its members' salaries and the period for which they will be required will be decided by the interior ministry.

"They (LPF units) will be formed in areas where there is insecurity," he said.

He said the government did not plan to provide arms for the force, instead members would be expected to use their personal weapons.

The LPF will be tasked with helping the Afghan National Police (ANP) in protecting their respective areas from attacks by militants, he added.

Afghan officials have not revealed any further details about the new force.

However, our correspondent says more than 10,000 men will be recruited. They will be vetted first and then given training by US special forces.

'Community defence'

The idea of using local armed groups to fight the Taliban has been discussed for some time.

In Paktia province, on the Pakistan border, gunmen of the Arbakai tribal militia have long protected the area and its people from militants.

In 2008, the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke about "community defence initiatives" as a way of dismantling the insurgency.

Since then, variations on the idea have been tried out but the government has been keen to avoid referring to them as "militia".

Many Afghans remember the notorious militias mobilised by the Soviets during their decade-long occupation in the 1980s, and the role they played in the bloody civil war that followed.

A Community Police Force was tried in eastern Nangarhar a few months ago, but fizzled out after an unenthusiastic start.

However, our correspondent says Gen Petraeus is keen to repeat the success of battling insurgents in Iraq, where local Sunni groups, known as Awakening Councils, were used to undermine militants.

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