Afghan militias accused of murder
Human Rights Watch report catalogues groups acting with impunity, undermining key plank in Nato troop reduction plans
US-backed Afghan militias are committing murder, rape, torture and extortion, risking increasing support for the insurgent groups they were designed to fight against, a prominent human rights group has said.
Militias including the Afghan Local Police (ALP) – seen as a key plank in Nato's troop reduction plans – suffer from poor oversight and no accountability, and are prone to act with impunity, Human Rights Watch said.
The ALP programme was introduced by the former commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, despite opposition from a sceptical President Hamid Karzai, who had it "forced down his throat like a foie gras goose", a military official told the Guardian.
One of Petraeus's predecessors, General Dan McNeill, had rebuffed British attempts to arm militias after warning in 2008 that "there has been some good work here to get those things back in the box".
The year-old ALP scheme is the latest attempt by the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan to create local militias in areas where the country's security forces are lacking. According to Petraeus, it was "arguably the most critical element in our effort to help Afghanistan develop the capability to secure itself".
It is supported by US special forces and overseen by the Afghan ministry of the interior, and is being expanded after initial success in some areas where the local militias beat back insurgents.
But Human Rights Watch's 102-page report, Just Don't Call it a Militia, details how the US-funded "high-risk" and "quick-fix" solution has been plagued by poor design, a lack of oversight and insufficient vetting of the 7,000 recruits, some of whom are criminals or insurgents.
The US has approved funding for a further 23,000 ALP recruits. Human Rights Watch says the ALP has improved security in some areas, but it has uncovered multiple examples of human rights abuses that threaten to undermine its worth.
In one of the worst examples of brutality, ALP militiamen detained two teenage boys on suspicion of planting roadside bombs in the district of Shindand, in Herat province.
An elder told Human Rights Watch: "Other elders and I went to the ALP base to collect [one of the boys]. He had been beaten and nails had been hammered into his feet."
The most serious cases of abuse involve the killing and gang rape of child suspects, beatings, land grabs and the forcible collection of ushr, an informal tax.
None of the cases have resulted in any action against the perpetrators, often because of the ALP's links to powerful figures, the report says.
"Patronage links to senior officials in the local security forces and the central government allow supposedly pro-government militias to terrorise local communities and operate with impunity," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The report details the expansion of Afghan government-backed militias, which are known as arbakai, in the northern province of Kunduz in order to "prevent a Taliban takeover".
The district governor of Khanabad, Nizamuddin Nashir, told Human Rights Watch the groups were operating lawlessly. "They collect [taxes], take the daughters of the people, they do things against the wives of the people, they take their horses, sheep, anything," he said.
Human Rights Watch called for the disbandment of such irregular armed groups and for the US and Afghan governments to tighten vetting procedures and provide better oversight of the ALP. It also wants to ensure that allegations of abuse are investigated in accordance with the Leahy law, which forbids US military assistance to any foreign security force involved in human rights abuses for which it is not held accountable.
"While there is a need for more security at the village level, the Afghan and US governments should be very careful not to repeat the mistakes of militias past," Adams said. "If quick corrections are not made, the ALP could end up being just another militia that causes more problems than it cures."
A spokeswoman from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force said the report "potentially provides a way ahead in refining and improving areas" where the programme was deficient. Isaf would work with the Afghan government in investigating the allegations of abuse and mistreatment noted in the report, the spokeswoman added.
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