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NATO report finds abuses by Afghan local police forces

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KABUL, Afghanistan » Some U.S.-trained, Afghan local police officers have engaged in illegal taxation, carried weapons outside their villages and in some cases committed assault, but overall the NATO military leadership thinks they have been "effective," according to a report issued late Thursday.

The report, written by Brig. Gen. James R. Marrs of the U.S. Air Force, is a response to a highly critical study by Human Rights Watch released in September that detailed allegations of human rights abuses by the relatively new Afghan local police force and by irregular armed groups across the country. Of the 46 accusations of human rights abuses in the Human Rights Watch report, Marrs found seven credible and 15 partly credible. He determined that 10 allegations were not credible and 14 could not be researched sufficiently to permit a conclusion.

The reports by NATO and Human Rights Watch looked at two types of armed groups: local militias, known as arbakai, which are organized by local commanders, and the Afghan local police force, which is trained by U.S. Special Operations forces and is supposed to be accountable to the Interior Ministry. There are now more than 8,000 Afghan local police officers.

In some parts of the country, the irregular militias tell the civilian population that they are about to become Afghan local police officers, expecting to be officially enrolled soon. The number of irregular militia members is far greater than the number of Afghan local police officers, and some of their commanders are former members of the Taliban who have joined the government, and continue to dominate their local area.

Adding to the murky layers of official and unofficial law enforcement in the country, there have been a succession of programs for the local police that have been abandoned, but many of the people from those defunct programs still carry guns and attempt to wield influence.

Over the past 30 years, many militias have used various predatory techniques to extract money and services from the local population. Some of the specific accusations that the NATO report found to be accurate involved Afghan local police officers and some involved militiamen. Overall, the NATO report agreed with some of the broad assessments by Human Rights Watch, including that Afghan local police officers need better training in basic human rights.

The report by Marrs concluded that accusations of complicity in human rights abuses by U.S. Special Operations trainers were not substantiated.

Nonetheless, the report, when added to other reports and publicized cases of abuse involving the Afghan local police, including a recent one by the United Nations, indicates some deep-seated problems.

The NATO report documented problems in three of the four areas of the country where the Afghan local police are active. In a number of cases, it said, there appeared to be no clear sense of limits in the authority of local police officers.

In northern Afghanistan, the report said, a unit of the local police punished a young boy for stealing and searched homes without approval from the Afghan National Police.

In Afghanistan’s west, some local police officers appeared to have detained at least one person illegally and carried weapons outside their home villages, which is not permitted and presumably intimidated civilians. The report notes that in Wardak province, which is in eastern Afghanistan, "most of the issues involve petty theft and abuse of authority."

The recommendations in the report include better training in human rights and creating specific procedures to discipline or dismiss local police officers.

Most officers in the local police cannot read, the NATO report said, and so the current training materials are not appropriate. The officers need to learn through "practical scenarios" how to treat detainees and not to demand food or other items of value, the report said, suggesting that in some places such behavior is routine.

But the report did not address problems with irregular militias, whose members receive no training and who often prey on Afghan citizens with impunity, especially in remote areas.

 

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