The Afghan government should reject proposals to create a new militia with inadequate training and oversight, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday.
The statement said western diplomatic sources in Kabul told Human Rights Watch that President Ashraf Ghani is considering establishing a defense unit modelled on the Indian Territorial Army, an auxiliary force comprising personnel who serve on a short-term contract basis with the regular armed forces. The NATO Resolute Support Mission is believed to support such a local security force in Afghanistan.
An Afghan Territorial Army with reduced training and potentially less oversight risks being yet another abusive militia operating outside the military’s chain of command, Human Rights Watch said. If approved, the Afghan government is expected to determine the location of a pilot project by September 20, 2017.
“The Afghan government’s expansion of irregular forces could have enormously dangerous consequences for civilians,” said Patricia Gossman, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of creating additional local forces, which are hard to control and prone to abuses, the Afghan government with US and NATO support should be strengthening training and oversight to ensure that all forces respect the law.”
While the territorial army would operate under a regular army corps commander, diplomatic sources told Human Rights Watch that Afghan officials involved in the discussions have expressed concern about the force becoming used by powerful strongmen, or becoming dependent on local patronage networks. There is also concern that the new force could replicate the criminality that many Afghan Local Police units exhibited, and clash with other government forces and militias over control of territory and smuggling routes.
In addition to the proposed Afghan Territorial Army, the Afghan government is considering creating a new 15,000-strong tribal militia, under the Ministry of Tribal and Border Affairs, currently headed by former governor Gul Agha Sherzai. The model for such a militia appears to be those established along ethnic lines by the late President Mohammad Najibullah in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Members of those militia forces were responsible for serious human rights abuses.
“There is a long, unsavory history of using tribal and irregular militias in Afghanistan, and it has led to egregious crimes without accountability,” Gossman said. “Too often they have inflamed conflict rather than provide security.”