Echoing similar measures used in Iraq, the U.S. will begin funding militias in remote areas of Afghanistan to help fight the Taliban.
The first militias will be established in Wardak Province, in eastern Afghanistan, in coming weeks, officials said. If the effort in Wardak is successful, U.S. commanders hope to create similar forces in other parts of Afghanistan in early 2009.
The militia push is part of a growing American effort to bypass the struggling Afghan central government and funnel resources to Afghan villages and provinces. Senior American officials have stepped up their criticism of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in recent weeks, making clear that they believe his government needs to do more to fight corruption and deliver basic services.
Karzai was opposed to earlier U.S. efforts to create local militias, citing worries that they would fall under the influence of warlords. However, many analysts feel the new tactic may help promote stability in a country where local communities have a tradition of “[taking] care of themselves,” U.S. Ambassador William Wood said. Officials hope to expand the program if it is successful:
In the first phase of the pilot program, villages throughout Wardak will convene shura meetings of local tribal, religious and political figures. The community elders will then be responsible for recruiting the local militias and overseeing their conduct.
Wardak Province in Afghanistan (WSJ)
As in Iraq, the new Afghan militias will be paid by the U.S. A senior American military official in Kabul said the money would likely be first funneled to the individual village shuras, which would in turn be charged with disbursing salaries to their fighters.
The U.S. won’t provide weapons or ammunition to the militias, but the local forces will be allowed to keep and use the weapons they already have. “The honest truth is that these guys don’t need us to give them guns,” the U.S. official said.
Gov. Fidai said that he hopes the local militias will attract some former insurgents, potentially boosting the Afghan government’s efforts to win over moderate members of the Taliban.
Peter Cassata is an assistant editor at the Atlantic Council.