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Cablegate: Unconventional Security Forces -- What's Out There?

DE RUEHBUL #3661/01 3161456
R 121456Z NOV 09

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 KABUL 003661


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/02/2019

REF: A. KABUL 2520
B. KABUL 1016
C. KABUL 1425
D. KABUL 3366
E. KABUL 2339
F. KABUL 2807


1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: While the international community works
to grow the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), local
communities and the Afghan government (GIRoA) are resorting
to various unconventional security forces to protect
communities from insurgents. These forces range from the
U.S.-supported, GIRoA-controlled Afghan Public Protection
Program (AP3, refs A-C) to warlord Mir Alam Khan's Kunduz
militia (ref D), which is reportedly connected to the
National Directorate of Security (NDS) but seems to operate
without government guidance, command or control. Private
security companies, arbakai (local tribal self-defense
forces), and local election security forces round out the
picture, while U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) is laying
groundwork for a GIRoA-backed village guard program known as
the Community Defense Initiative. The proliferation of these
local and private bodies attests to deficiencies in the
strength and quality of regular security forces and a lack of
public confidence in the police. Interior Minister Hanif
Atmar is trying to shape Afghan communities' responses to
insecurity, heading-off the creation of independent militia
forces that could challenge or undermine the ANSF. Atmar
also envisions gradually replacing private Afghan security
companies (PSCs), with a public guard force paid and
controlled by his ministry.

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2. (C/NF) We believe that until we can build sufficient
ANSF to secure the population, the U.S. should follow Atmar's
pragmatic approach -- that local solutions are permissible
only as a closely monitored and tightly controlled stop-gap
measure tied to ANSF, that can either be demobilized or
merged into the Afghan National Police and Army as those
institutions grow. Otherwise, U.S. support for
unconventional forces (particularly if they prove prone to
manipulation by local power-brokers) could undercut popular
and international support for funding formal security forces
and reinforce a traditional worst practice -- the arming of
ethnic or sub-tribal militias that could divide Afghan
communities and spark additional violence.


--------------------------------------------- ------------

3. (C/NF) While many senior GIRoA officials -- including
Rural Reconstruction and Development Minister Ehsan Zia,
Defense Minister Wardak and Afghan Army Operations Chief LTG
Sher Karimi -- oppose unconventional security forces in
principle, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar appears to have the
best developed sense among Afghan leaders of how to restrain
them in practice ) not by suppressing them but by shaping
and overseeing them. LTG Jamal Abdulnaseer Siddique, Deputy
Interior Minister for Strategy and Policy, and Atmar's
highest-ranking political appointee, told Pol-Mil Officer
that Atmar wants to use the traditional militia concept but
tame it and bring it under state control. Locals who are
loyal to the government and register their existing arms
could serve as police auxiliaries, receiving food and even
some pay from MOI in return for helping the police. Atmar's
longest-serving advisor, Habib Wayand, explained that the
Minister prefers to encourage small groups linked to local
shuras, rather than large militias that might bite back or
prove loyal to commanders with their own agendas.

4. (C/NF) These local auxiliaries must be compensated
individually by the Ministry, not through their commanders,
who could siphon off compensation or use funds to build a
force loyal to themselves. Minister Atmar's model for
local security is the Afghan Public Protection Program
(AP3), in which local shuras select young men who are
vetted by GIRoA institutions, trained by U.S. Special
Forces and paid by MOI for static guard duties, and answer
to local police commanders. Atmar wants AP3 to expand to
other provinces and eventually merge its members into the
KABUL 00003661 002 OF 005
regular police force.


5. (C/NF) AP3 is not expanding at this juncture, but taking
stock. From March to August, the USFOR-A element known as
Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command
Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A) trained and deployed 548 locals as
community guardians in four districts in Wardak province as
part of the AP3 program (ref A). CFSOCC-A has a fifth class
of at least 150 men on hold while it works with MOI to reform
the command and control structure for AP3, establishing clear
lines of authority from MOI to the district level. CFSOCC-A
is also working with Combined Security Transition Command
Afghanistan (CSTC-A) to fix food allowance payments and
distribution of cold weather gear. AP3 expansion also awaits
ISAF/ANSF efforts to clear more of Wardak's Seyeedabad
district of insurgents, creating space for AP3 recruitment.

6. (C/NF) The guardians have had notable successes -- in
October, they discovered and dismantled eight IEDs, more
than any other ANSF unit in Wardak. Wardak Governor Mohammad
Halim Fedai, in a letter to the Independent Directorate of
Local Governance, states that the additional security AP3
guardians have provided has allowed the provincial government
to step up mobile police patrols; open schools; convene
public meetings; enjoy a significant reduction in rocket
attacks and IED emplacements; ramp up work on the Maydan
Shahr - Bamyan highway; and, reduce travel time on other
highways by deterring insurgents and criminals from shaking
down motorists.

7. (C/NF) However, the Governor also complained about
problems with pay and equipment and expressed concern that
AP3 no longer receives the same high-level attention from
U.S. forces and MOI that it did at its inception. He pointed
to confusion over command and control and a dearth of
promised development projects for APPF districts. (COMMENT:
To the extent that AP3 is succeeding, it is because
communities accept the guardians and are willing to put their
young men in uniform, on the government payroll, and under
the authority of the police. In communities with stronger
insurgent support -- such as Wardak's Sayeedabad district --
it may be more difficult for locals to accept police in any

--------------------------------------------- ---------

8. (S/NF) In July, Kunduz Governor Mohammad Omar asked
Minister Atmar to expand AP3 to his province, but the
Minister was unable to do so as the program was still in its
trial phase. Omar and his NDS chief then asked for the
support of Tajik and Uzbek militia forces under former
Northern Alliance commander Mir Alam Khan (ref D). While
Khan claims that his 500-man militia is under the legal
control of the NDS, he maintains operational control of the
force and distributes its pay. (COMMENT: This is likely a
meaningless distinction -- the Kunduz NDS Chief is Mir Alam
Khan's brother-in-law. END COMMENT.)

9. (S/NF) Armed with weapons cached earlier this decade
while Mir Alam Khan participated in Disarmament,
Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR), his militia has
killed four Taliban commanders and 47 fighters, and captured
20 villages previously under Taliban control. The initiative
is entirely local -- MOI contacts told Pol-Mil officer that
the Ministry was not involved with the Kunduz militia, and
demurred when he asked whether this initiative crossed
Minister Atmar's red-lines on unconventional security forces.
Mir Alam Khan likely does not need MOI support -- reporting
indicates that Vice President Massoud and Marshal Fahim Khan
both support Mir Alam's efforts, which are locally popular as

10. (S/NF) Kunduz's demographics -- the province's Pashtun
population, at 36 percent, is the highest in RC-North -- may
account for Tajik and Uzbek anxiety. Pashtuns' exclusion
KABUL 00003661 003 OF 005
from local political power after 2001 may account for their
discontent and support for insurgent groups. In an October
meeting with a senior U.S. military leader, Mir Alam Khan
made an illustrative claim -- that Kunduz's security problems
derived from the DDR and Disarmament of Illegally Armed
Groups (DIAG) programs, which disarmed local (Tajik and
Uzbek) commanders and, in his view, enabled Taliban to enter
the province and local anti-GIROA Pashtuns to assert

--------------------------------------------- ----------

11. (SBU) Over the next five years, Minister Atmar
envisions replacing Afghanistan's fifty-two registered
private security companies (PSCs) with a public guard
force paid by customers but administered by MOI. The force
would guard private businesses, ISAF supply convoys and
bases, infrastructure, and construction projects. Its size
would vary according to demand but could reach 47,000 above
and beyond the regular police ceiling (currently 96,800,
likely to rise to 160,000 in 2010). While the public guard
concept would leave room for international security
providers with specialized services (e.g. Ghurkha guards
for international organizations and Embassies) it would
effectively nationalize the Afghan PSCs and put their
estimated 30,000 employees under MOI control.

12. (C/NF) Atmar's advisors argue that there is precedent
for a public guard in the Faryab 500 (a local police
force in Ghowrmach district, administered from Faryab
province, which is paid for by the Asian Development Bank
to secure a bank-funded portion of Ring Road construction;
ref E), and the Aynak copper mine and Salma (Herat) dam
projects, where Chinese and Indian developers pay police
salaries. Atmar's advisors described his motivations to
us: a public guard would help MOI grow the police force
beyond the level donors are presently willing to fund; it
would be a revenue source for MOI; by controlling pay for
private guards it would lessen competition for ANSF
recruiting; and, it would bring privately-controlled armed
groups under government authority. (COMMENT: There are
practical and political difficulties with the Public Guard
concept. The Faryab 500 are experiencing high turnover due
to irregular payment by MOI. This is in spite of the Asian
Development Bank regularly paying MOI via the Finance
Ministry. Current U.S. law does not allow the military to
contract security from another government. Many Afghan PSCs
are a lucrative source of income for former warlords and
other influential power-brokers, who will likely oppose
nationalization. END COMMENT)

13. (C/NF) Atmar's UN advisor told us in October that MOI
had recently bowed to political pressure and licensed 15 new
private security companies (adding to an original list of
39). Several were linked to political power-brokers,
including Mallik Zarin of Konar and Siddique Mojaddedi, the
Meshrano Jirga speaker's son. (Mojaddedi, who ran a PSC in
Australia, also seeks to be Atmar's advisor on the subject --
a move resisted by the Minister thus far.) Several sources
close to Atmar describe him as reluctantly bowing to
political pressure from well-connected security
entrepreneurs, but with a plan to ultimately supplant them.
Atmar's anxiety over Afghan PSCs is part and parcel of his
concern over non-state actors with arms -- such as the Kunduz
militia -- who are privately controlled and owe their loyalty
to paymasters outside of government control.

14. (C/NF) ISAF, USFOR-A, and Embassy Kabul are discussing
and will soon raise with Atmar an alternative approach to a
public guard: stricter MoI licensing and regulation of PSCs.
We believe this could meet Atmar,s professed sovereignty
concerns regarding oversight of the PSC function while
avoiding the bureaucratic complications of trying to add the
management of thousands of PSC personnel to a Ministry
already struggling with police growth.

--------------------------------------------- --
KABUL 00003661 004 OF 005

15. (C/NF) During the first round of this year's
elections, deputized locals worked with ANSF to provide
additional security at polling stations, but their role was
limited and many were not paid as promised (ref F). MOI
contacts assert that the Palace, rather than MOI, was
responsible for paying these local auxiliaries. MOI
sources allege that Presidential advisor and head of the
Independent Directorate for Protection of Public
Properties and Highways Mohammad Arif Khan Noorzai (who
is also Ahmad Wali Karzai's brother-in-law) was in charge
of these efforts. In September, when tribal leaders from
Khost sought government support to pay 100 arbakai
(traditional community security guards who answer to local
shuras) per district, they approached Noorzai rather than
MOI, MOD, or NDS. Noorzai reportedly told elders that the
Palace had no budget to support them. Noorzai's role, and
that of his directorate, are ambiguous, but at least some
Afghans view him as a source of financial support for
unconventional security forces outside of regular security

16. (SBU) Even without Palace support, some locals are
establishing and funding militia of their own. In the Loya
Paktia region of RC-East (the only region of the country
with a real tradition of arbakai or tribal levies), the
Zazi (Jaji) tribe has raised an arbakai to keep insurgents
out of their communities (septel). Their initiative is a
reaction against insurgent violence, but also reflects their
dissatisfaction with the government, which they do not trust
to protect them.


17. (S/NF) CFSOCC-A is conducting survey work and tribal
engagement for its Community Defense Initiative (CDI) a
program whereby U.S. Special Forces (ODA) teams would provide
embedded training, communications equipment and ammunition to
local communities with a proven track record of opposing
insurgents. (CDI would not provide arms, however, as CFSOCC-A
assesses that the communities in question have plenty of
their own, nor does CFSOCC-A intend to provide stipends to
village guards.) CFSOCC-A contends that ODA training and the
ability reliably to call for assistance from ISAF/GIRoA
forces would better enable these communities to exclude
insurgents from their territory and report on their
movements. CFSOCC-A tentatively plans to introduce the
concept in nine districts of Regional Commands South, East,
and West, where ANSF are absent. CFSOCC-A has begun outreach
on CDI to local shuras.

18. (SBU) That said, while senior ISAF officers have sought
GIRoA ministers' approval of CDI, and have underscored the
need for transition of CDI to GIRoA oversight, GIRoA has not
formally approved the program. In a meeting on October 27,
the Ambassador briefed National Security Advisor Rassoul on
the parameters of the CDI program. The Ambassador noted that
the program had great merits but would need the firm
approval of the President and the cabinet before
implementation. Rassoul demurred, suggesting that the
Embassy raise the issue with President Karzai, who he said
has concerns over the program. The Ambassador reiterated
that there must be clear, collective Afghan ownership of such
a program. Toward this purpose, we are developing with
USFOR-A a draft agreement on CDI among U.S. Forces
Afghanistan, GIRoA ministries (including the Ministries of
Defense and Interior), and the National Security Advisor,
which includes a commitment for CDI's transition to GIRoA
control. Ambassador Eikenberry has informed U.S. Forces
Afghanistan that he will not authorize the use of 1208
funding, nor the deployment of USG civilian personnel in
support of CDI operations, until GIRoA has signed an
agreement clearly delineating its own responsibility for such
a program (including selection of a lead ministry whose
minister would become personally responsible for the program;
SEPTEL to follow).

--------------------------------------------- -----------
KABUL 00003661 005 OF 005

19. (C/NF) Insufficient security forces, coupled with poor
police performance and corruption, contribute to locals'
sense that GIRoA cannot protect them, and that the ANSF may,
indeed, sometimes pose a threat. As we strengthen and grow
the ANSF, particularly the police, they will be better able
to earn the people's trust, binding communities to their
government through the provision of security and justice.
However, full ANSF development will take at least four years,
and communities' security needs are immediate. Afghans will
resort to traditional self-defense mechanisms in the
meantime, but unsupervised, those mechanisms can tend in
dangerous directions. Mir Alam's Kunduz militia --
ethnically divisive, controlled by one man, grounded in
contempt for DIAG and the rule of law -- exemplifies a quick
fix with dangerous implications: tactical gains at strategic

20. (C/NF) In contrast, Minister Atmar's policy of shaping
and controlling these local initiatives seems a pragmatic way
of asserting GIRoA's sovereignty over armed persons, along
with a degree of influence. There is a wide gulf between AP3
and the Kunduz militia. Local arbakai could move toward
either pole depending on incentives and the signals we and
GIRoA send. Clear redlines on unconventional security forces
from GIRoA, and clear U.S. support for those redlines could
avert the re-armament of the Afghan countryside that
competing local militias would likely engender.

21. (C/NF) Correspondingly, ambiguous U.S. policies, or our
tolerance of or support for un-regulated forces, would
encourage some of the worst Afghan traditional tendencies and
undermine popular and international support for further ANSF
development. It would also raise suspicions of our
intentions among Afghans who perceived themselves as victims
of various militias. The best way to meet local communities'
legitimate security needs while we grow the police and army
is to insist that local security initiatives remain
tightly-controlled by GIRoA and monitored by the
international community. These can remain somewhat
improvisational, as stop-gap measures eventually to be
demobilized or merged into the police and army. The U.S.
should only deploy its resources and prestige in support of
programs that reflect GIRoA's highest standards, not
traditional bad habits.

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