On Saturday, we learned that US Special Operations forces have suspended training of Afghan Local Police while a re-screening of the backgrounds of those already in the force is carried out. I noted then that only Reuters dared to connect the ALP program to David Petraeus, who put it in place, presumably because the news on the program was not good. Yesterday, the New York Times also linked Petraeus to the program, and, remarkably, this came only one day after running an article exposing further problems with the ALP program.
Sunday’s article on problems with the Afghan Local Police program informs us that a number of atrocities have been linked to groups some claim have been enabled by the ALP program:
It was the second time in a month that one of the controversial militia groups, known as arbakai, had carried out reprisal killings of people believed to be Taliban sympathizers.
In both cases, residents complained that the groups received support and protection from American Special Operations forces, which the United States military has denied. The Special Operations units train arbakai militiamen only when they are enrolled in official programs for recruits of the Afghan Local Police, American officials insist.
Although the term “reprisal killing” has a specific definition in International Humanitarian Law (see this comment by joanneleon), the article linked by the Times when they used the term discusses what looks like a case of revenge killing fueled by ethnic hatred:
At least nine Afghans and perhaps many more were forced out of their homes in rural Afghanistan and executed in what Afghan officials called an act of revenge by one ethnic group against another, underscoring the long shadow cast by the country’s ethnic hatreds.
So, while at least some of the atrocities attributed to the ALP may be due to ethnic tensions, what seems clear is that in many cases these groups claim a relationship to US Special Operations forces that the US sometimes disputes. From this same early August article:
Two Afghan officials, including a member of Parliament, asserted that the man who is accused of leading the executions has had a relationship with American Special Operations forces — an assertion that an American spokesman denied. The other Afghan official, the provincial police chief, said the authorities in the area had tried to have the man arrested on past accusations of killing civilians, but that “foreigners” provided refuge for him.
The spokesman for the Special Operations Command, Lt. Col. Todd Harrell, said there were no Special Operations forces in the area and emphasized that it remained unclear if those who were killed were civilians or Taliban.
That is a very interesting dual-level denial by Harrell. First, he denies a link to the leader of the group carrying out the executions, but, just in case that claim later becomes non-operational, he throws in the suggestion that those killed may have been Taliban, presumably making the fact that they were executed okay.
The article goes on to state that perhaps some ALP units have direct links to Special Operations forces rather than operating under Afghan control. Complicating matters further, it appears that although the ALP program got a large push under Petraeus’ command, the practice of buying off militia groups has been going on from the beginning of our presence in Afghanistan and may go beyond Special Operations: Read more