Refugees International: US Afghanistan Strategy Causing Displacement

A harrowing new report from Refugees International shows that insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are on the rise and the number of displaced Afghan’s has skyrocketed over the past year.

Despite the U.S. military’s claims of progress, insurgent attacks are up by 50% over last year, and more than 250,000 people have fled their villages in the past two years. U.S. funded and trained militias are only exacerbating this explosive situation. As the U.S. begins to draw down its forces and transition responsibilities to the Afghan government, the Obama administration must mitigate further displacement and ensure that the Afghan government takes greater responsibility for the protection of displaced people. In addition, the UN must strengthen its capacity to respond to the growing humanitarian needs…

Since January 1, more than 91,000 Afghans have fled their villages – compared with 42,000 over the same time period last year. This is mostly due to international and Afghan forces’ military operations against the Taliban. The increasing use of airstrikes by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), as well as night raids by U.S. Special Forces is destroying homes, crops and basic infrastructure, traumatizing civilians and displacing tens of thousands of people. In the north alone, nearly 30,000 individuals have been displaced, a more than seven-fold increase compared to last year. Before the military escalated its campaign, Afghans were fleeing for brief periods and returning home shortly thereafter. Now, people are increasingly unwilling to return home because they fear their villages are no longer safe. To address this increasing instability, ISAF and ANSF must reduce the displacement caused by their operations.

RI says that one of the chief instigators of violence against civilians is a U.S. funded initiative, known as the Afghan Local Police initiative, that recruits local militias to form police units.  The problem is, the Afghan Local Police often use their position to harass civilians.  From Refugees International:

Although General Petraeus touts local defense initiatives as successfully thwarting the insurgency, the proliferation of militias is increasing insecurity, especially in the north. Many new militias operate under the guise of the U.S./ISAF-backed Afghan Local Police (ALP) initiative. Internally Displaced People (IDPs), government officials, security analysts and humanitarian actors told RI that the expansion of poorly vetted, ill-trained and unsupervised ALP units and irregular militias are a major threat to civilians and stability. These armed groups have allegedly committed abuses including murder, theft, extortion, bribery and intimidation. To prevent further harm to civilians, the U.S. must pressure the Afghan government to halt the further expansion of this program and address its shortfalls immediately.

The ALP is an Afghan Ministry of Interior (MOI)-led initiative intended to recruit local defense units to repel insurgents and stabilize remote, insecure areas of the country. General Petraeus considers the ALP an essential component of ISAF’s security hand-over to the ANSF. According to the Afghan plan, recruits are nominated by a local “shura” council, then vetted by Afghan Intelligence and trained for up to three weeks by U.S. forces or ISAF.  They are provided with a uniform, a small salary and an AMD-6 assault rifle, and are assigned to the local district police chief to defend their communities. In the ten months since the program was rolled out, the government has mobilized more than 6,200 members in over 34 districts. Afghan officials and international force commanders are so convinced of the ALP’s potential for success that they are planning to recruit, train and mobilize as many as 30,000 personnel in 100 districts by the end of 2011. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Pentagon plans towill contribute at least $35 million in FY11 Afghan Security Forces Funds toward the program.

The rapid rollout of the ALP program has been widely criticized by Afghans and humanitarian actors.  RI interviewed IDPs who reported that newly formed militias had been sent to their village in Jawzjan province and proceeded to loot, harass and forcibly tax the population. In March, a UN report cited concerns regarding the ALP’s “weak oversight, recruitment, vetting and command and control mechanisms, limited training for recruits…” Afghans, government officials, UN staff and aid workers all told RI that many recruits are receiving as little as “a couple of days” of training, a highly concerning trend given the fact that a large majority are illiterate and lack policing experience. They reported that local leaders are circumventing the ALP vetting process due to pressure to expedite recruitment. Moreover, RI was told of instances where powerful warlords pressure local leaders to formalize pre-existing militias into the ALP – often around tribal, ethnic or political lines – so they can use these units to avenge personal disputes or strengthen their influence.

Refugees International is calling on Congress to de-fend the ALP initiative, at least until there is adequate certification that these new units are properly vetted.

From RI: