Global Perspectives

Afghanistan’s Militias: The German View

Posted in Afghanistan by derjanosch on Monday, 26 December 2011

In December 2011, the German government published its annual report on Afghanistan. Essentially, there is no news in the report, but a section on “security forces and militias outside of ANP” (Schutzkräfte und Milizen außerhalb der ANP) deserves a little attention.

If you follow my twitter feed or this blog, you know that I follow the development of Afghan security forces with great interest. I think it tells a lot about the development of Afghanistan, the performance of ISAF, and greater political developments more general. To put my cards on the table, I previously argued that the development of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) is a threat to civilian security. It does serve the Western interest of providing an exit strategy in that it empowers warlords (thus defining stability as security), but it equally is a sign that a more ambitious goal of a national police with basic respect for human rights is a thing of the past.

In northern Afghanistan (presumably the RC North), the German government “estimates“(!) the number of militias to be approximately 3,000, roughly half of them (1,400) in Kunduz province. “Due to the enduring conflict since the 1980s,” the report continues, “large parts of society, and therefore also a large part of the militias, have links to the former warring parties.” For that reason, “loyalties shift regularly and repeatedly and are often of temporary nature”. On page 11, the report gives information of three basic groups: the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), the Afghan Local Police (ALP), and the Critical Infrastructure Protection force (CIP). It starts by defining the roles of the different institutions before assessing their use to a wider security architecture.

The Afghan Public Protection Force‘s role, the report states, is to secure key infrastructure, public and private facilities and replace private security companies (which have been widely criticised by the Karzai government). APPF members are re-hatted, stemming from the Afghan Local Police. They receive a short training course executed by DynCorp and assisted by Canadian trainers. The government signs contracts with public or private institutions who then are secured by APPF troops. The long-term goal is to turn it into a government-run company that runs these services. A second report by the German government (available here) assesses the capacities, stating “according to NTM-A, the APPF only has a limited capacity to execute its mission”.

The Afghan Local Police consists of locally recruited forces supervised by the Afghan government and the United States. The target goal for 2011 was 10,000 forces, the US military reportedly plans to increase the number of forces to 30,000. Whereas US involvement seems imperative, not least due to US special forces training, the dominant language usually is that it is an Afghan Ministry of the Interior-led project. Regarding the assessment of the forces, the German government states “In Kunduz province the deployment of the ALP helped improve stabilising the area in individual cases” (emphasis added). The second report is slightly more detailed, stating that the development of the ALP is “monitored critically due to accusations of grave human rights violations”. Especially when it comes to vetting (i.e. the security background check) “the established procedure in practice is only inadequately implemented or not implemented at all”. All of this seems to undermine Germany’s already negative view of these forces.

The Critical Infrastructure Protection force, as the name indicates, protects critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges, etc. CIP troops reportedly receive $140 salary and are funded by the US through the Commander Emergency Response Program (CERP). New to me – and shocking – is the fact that “CIP forces (…) receive no training, don’t wear uniforms and bring their own weapons”.  “Vetted” by local shuras and added to the US biometric database, their only point of identification is an armband with an ID number. This, I think, is where it gets really problematic. Particularly the BYOW (bring your own weapon) factor – even in a tribal society which accepts carrying weapons – completely delegitimises this force. The most basic question remains unanswered: Who is an “insurgent” that the critical infrastructure needs to be protected against and by what means. This opens the door for killings, warlordism and the like under the name of security. The CERP-financing aggravates the problem in that it does not come with any institutionalised oversight.

[Update 26/12/2011] Via Twitter I received a message that in northern Afghanistan CIP has been suspended as of 25 Dec 2011 – thanks for the info! [/update]

In addition to these “quasi-police units”, as the report calls them, there are “a variety of militias, paid by local power brokers or businessmen” which are “partly” loyal to the central government.

The assessment by the Germans is rather bleak: “For the German government the creation of quasi-police forces outside the ANP with the goal of improving the security situation is unrewarding”. Three things seem to stand out: (1) accusations of grave human rights violations; (2) the lack of governmental oversight undermining the government’s monopoly of violence; and (3) the absence of a long-term idea of how and when to integrate these forces into the regular forces. According to the report, Germany does not include these militias into its operations and does not cooperate with these forces. Interestingly, the Germans “with its international partners” will “in appropriate ways” influence the Afghan government. Since the report even acknowledges that most of these programmes are US-led and/or financed, I wonder if the Afghans actually have a say in this…

All in all, the German reports are in no way surprising. Germany made it clear that it objects the use of militias in Afghanistan and that it – officially at least – sticks to the goal of creating forces that obey human rights. The two things that are interesting from the reports are (1) the tone, which at times is quite direct in cases where one might have expected a somewhat more diplomatic language; and (2) the facts, especially numbers and procedures, that often are not available as such. Meanwhile, the content of the reports once again underlines the risks involved in setting up militias.


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  1. […] I wrote this morning, the Germans, commanding the Regional Command (RC) North, have not been very keen on […]

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