What America's Leaving Behind in Afghanistan: Trained Militias Accused of Rape and Murder
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And, in a country plagued by more than 30 years of war and a long history of thuggish militias, many Afghans have difficulty distinguishing between the ALP program and militias of the past.
It’s hard to blame them. Since the ALP program started in 2010, serious accusations have been lodged against ALP members, including rape and murder. In May 2012, for example, an ALP commander in Kunduz province and four of his men abducted an 18-year-old girl, chained her to a wall, and repeatedly raped her for a week. Human Rights Watch investigated another incident in Baghlan province where four armed ALP members abducted a 13-year-old boy and gang raped him the house of the ALP commander. And in February 2011, an ALP unit in Herat province reportedly raided several homes, stole belongings, and beat residents. One boy was allegedly detained and beaten overnight by the same ALP unit in June 2011 and had nails hammered into his feet. There have also been many complaints of ALP members demanding bribes or “Islamic taxes” from villagers. Community members say that the national police have failed to investigate such incidents.
The ALP program implicates the U.S. Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to “foreign military units” if there is credible evidence that such units have committed gross violations of human rights. However, there have been no financial cutbacks to the ALP program under the Leahy Law. In fact, Congress has approved funding to expand the program to a total of 30,000 ALP members by the end of 2014, and the Los Angeles Times has reported that the Pentagon plans to ask Congress to fund the program for another five years.
An American Albatross
Despite attempts to emphasize Afghan ownership of the program, the ALP is largely viewed as a U.S. creation. Under the official directive, ALP units should operate under the command and control of the local chief of police. In practice, however, the chief of police has little to no control over ALP units, especially since ALP units operate in areas where ANP units cannot go. As a result, ALP units operate relatively independently and are perceived to be an appendage of the U.S. military.
Vetting is a serious concern. Sometimes local strongmen are selected, including former Taliban commanders and influential warlords. While engaging local shuras is a laudable objective, the truth is that as outsiders, it is difficult for U.S. officials to navigate these highly complex webs of histories and tribal loyalties. In Badghis province, a Taliban commander and 20 of his men—who were implicated in the past with stoning a woman to death and a series of beheadings—were recruited into the ALP.
Both Afghan and U.S. officials have used the ALP program as a way of persuading insurgents to lay down their arms and join the government by promising them jobs with ALP units. Such quick fixes without regard for justice and reconciliation can create tension within these communities. After all, regular Afghans know exactly who the bad guys are do not wish to see them in positions of power in their own villages. But by writing their checks, the U.S. government is ensuring just that.
While some Pentagon officials defend the program by claiming that no police program is perfect, the ALP program is particularly vulnerable to problems due to a general atmosphere of lawlessness in Afghanistan. To presume that security gains outweigh any abuses suffered by the Afghan population would be a mistake for the United States, especially as it seeks to persuade the Afghan government to respect and promote human rights.