Afghanistan tries to clean up its militias, both legal and illegal - latimes
On the outskirts of a remote district in northern Afghanistan’s Takhar province, about 80 armed men gathered near the front line of a Taliban-controlled village, ready for battle.
Half the fighters were members of the Afghan Local Police, a U.S.-backed militia supervised by the Afghan interior ministry. The others were guns for hire loyal to local power brokers, some of whom are paid with the proceeds from opium sales.
For more than three hours the combined forces battled the Taliban in the Koka Bloq area of Eshkamesh district, killing several insurgents including Qari Omar, the top local Taliban official, according to government accounts of the July fighting.
When the battle was over, the armed groups went their separate ways. But next time, the guns for hire and police could just as easily be shooting at each other.
As Afghanistan tries to institute reforms in its security sector, it has struggled to bring order to the dizzying array of militias, irregular fighters, personal bodyguards and other armed groups that often fight the Taliban but also battle among themselves.
In Takhar, which lies along the border with Tajikistan, local officials say influential figures have created several irregular armed groups to carry out private missions in various districts. They cultivate hashish, smuggle it and opium to Tajikistan and extort local farmers with ushr – an Islamic land tax usually levied only in times of economic crisis.
Both the irregular militias and ALP units have been accused of robberies, killings, blackmail and forcing women into marriage, provincial officials say
“They have taken government weapons for their own benefit and have had several clashes over power, drug deals and other internal issues,” said the deputy governor of Takhar, Farid Zaki.
A key driver of the conflict in Takhar is the poppy crop from which opium is produced, the main revenue source for Afghan armed groups, chiefly the Taliban. Local officials say poppy is smuggled into Takhar from neighboring Badakhshan,
one of Afghanistan’s most isolated regions, and trafficked to surrounding provinces. Afghanistan’s thriving poppy harvest is worth an estimated $3 billion a year, according to the United Nations, although growing, transporting and selling it remain illegal.
Officials say fights over opium and hashish smuggling routes have contributed to insecurity that has helped the Taliban gain ground in Takhar and Kunduz province, to the west. Insurgents this month launched an offensive to retake Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, which they briefly seized a year ago.
“Lawmakers and some powerful figures in Takhar fight for their share of opium, and these disputes pave the way for the insurgents to infiltrate easily,” Zaki said.
With U.S. government funding for the ALP, which costs $121 million annually, due to expire in 2018, Afghan officials have sought to hasten reforms in a bid to keep the financial support coming. - More