Staff Sgt. Richard Rodriguez was on a mission. On March 27, the stocky military policeman from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division led a group of American and Afghan security forces on a foot patrol through the town of Baraki Barak, 50 miles south of Kabul. (See video above.)
Among Rodriguez’s goals: to identify young, male candidates for a new militia-style, neighborhood-watch program — and enroll them in NATO’s biometric database for vetting.
Spotting one likely candidate, Rodriguez extolled the virtues of joining the so-called “Afghan Local Police” as another soldier took the man’s photo and fingerprints. If the recruit signed up, he would join an estimated 5,000 other men already committed to wear the blue ALP uniform and stand guard in their own villages, armed with AK-47s and their intimate knowledge of the local people and terrain.
NATO and Afghan commanders both agree that these fresh forces can’t come soon enough. After no fewer than five attempts since 2001 to stand up inexpensive, minimally-trained local militia forces, the U.S.-led alliance is running out of time. The first of roughly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan are slated to withdraw this summer, potentially leaving a huge gap in the country’s defenses.
But when it comes to training and leadership for the new patrolmen, there seems to be some confusion. Some U.S. and Afghan officers say the local police will be trained and led by Afghan National Police. But NATO’s top cop-trainer insists that’s not the case — and only foreign Special Forces will have that responsibility.
The absence of clear plan could undermine the local-police program, at a stage of the war where there’s simply no time to try raising yet another pro-NATO militia.