Supporting Afghan Militias

Anti-Taliban militias have recently emerged in Afghanistan, and American and Afghan officials are assisting them.  The new plan to expand the armed groups is called the Community Defense Initiative, and it involves the use of Special Forces teams to train local militiamen.  Right now there are hundreds of such fighters, and the US hopes to create thousands more.  The militias are mostly led by tribal elders who oppose the Taliban, but officials hope to incorporate them into the government security forces at some point.

The independent emergence of local militias is a positive development for the Western coalition.  It indicates that some Afghans outside the government are serious about battling the Taliban, and they could serve as  alternative allies for the US, which is frustrated with Afghan President Hamid Karzai whose administration has been plagued by corruption and failure.

Some of the potential benefits of expanding local militias include: an increase in the number of anti-Taliban fighters; more effective protection of towns and villages (as a result of superior local knowledge, respected leadership and reduced ethnic tensions); more intelligence sources; and the reduced likelihood that the Taliban will be able to gain strength and geographical reach in areas of the country where they are relatively weak.

Some of the potential weaknesses of the plan include: the limited power of tribes (especially in relation to the Sunni tribes in Iraq that eventually helped the US fight Al Qaeda there;); the prospect of warlordism by militia leaders; the risk that tribes will feel betrayed if the coalition fails to support them sufficiently; and the likelihood that the Taliban will retaliate against civilians who live in areas where the militias operate.

The Community Defense Initiative is a smart move at a time when Western forces and the Afghan government are having difficulty dealing with the Taliban insurgency and US military commanders have requested more troops.  How well the Afghan militias will be able to combat the Taliban is difficult to predict, but Western efforts to train and assist them may pay major dividends.

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