Poorly paid, poorly trained Afghan tribal militia bore the brunt of the fighting in recent battles with Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan.
One June 15, hundreds of Taliban based in the mountains of Uruzgan province, north of Kandahar, launched attacks against Dutch, Australian and Afghan forces and civilians in the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt and in outlying towns. The Taliban used rockets, mortars, small arms and one suicide car-bomber to briefly wrest several checkpoints from coalition forces. Afghan militiamen armed only with AK-47s held the line until counterattacks by Dutch forces based at Kamp Holland outside of Tarin Kowt succeeded in retaking the checkpoints and pushing back the Taliban. By June 20 the major fighting had ended.
As many as 100 Taliban were killed. Several dozen militiamen and local civilians and two Dutch soldiers also died.
Unofficial tribal armies are common in rural Afghanistan and represent both the best solution to Afghanistan’s security problems …. and a major impediment to orderly governance. The militia have a reputation for fearlessness in the face of Taliban assaults – but they’re equally renowned, and resented, for demanding bribes from the local populace in order to supplement their meager pay. Junior militiamen might earn just $70 a month in a country where $100 is generally considered the minimum required to feed a family. “Corruption is a culture,” says Dutch police trainer Major Jaap.
In spite their corruption, militiamen represent the major pool for police recruits in Uruzgan province, according to Jaap, who like many coalition soldiers gives only his first name for security reasons. Jaap leads a team of around two dozen Dutch and U.S. police instructors teaching 8-week courses at Kamp Holland. Militiamen, most of whom are illiterate, enter the course with only “checkpoint skills” and leave as coalition-approved “auxiliary police” with first aid, search and basic weapons skills. Many auxiliary cops eventually take advanced classes in order to become full-blown national police.
“They are not the best students,” Jaap says of the militiamen. “We don’t want them, but they’re the ones defending their villages.”
Indeed, last week some of Jaap’s students sent notes asking for excused absences. They were busy fighting the Taliban, they wrote. An American instructor at the school says that combat is a legitimate excuse for missing class.
Despite Jaap’s reservations, the American instructor – who requested anonymity – praises his student’s enthusiasm and bravery. He points out that the average auxiliary police trainee has seen more combat than his instructors but has never lost his sense of humor. During a June 18 course on proper search techniques, the students giggled when instructed to pat down a suspect’s groin area.
The trainees’ sense of humor is a coping mechanism, the American instructor says. Life is dangerous for militia and their families. During the June battles, Taliban fighters abducted and murdered the families of Afghan security forces, according to Dutch commander Lieutenant Colonel Gino Van Der Voet.
Even these terror tactics failed to break the militia’s will to fight, Van Der Voet says. “Afghan security force morale is high.”
Cross-posted at Military.com