The Pentagon defended a program Monday that recruits local police forces in Afghan villages despite the findings of a US-funded report that found the project has failed to weaken the insurgency and is riddled with corruption and abuse.
Top officers, including the former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, have praised the Afghan Local Police initiative as a successful tool in rolling back the Taliban in rural areas.
But the unpublished study commissioned by the Defense Department and prepared by the RAND Corporation think tank offers a less optimistic analysis, officials said.
The Los Angeles Times first revealed the report’s findings, saying it was based in part on classified military intelligence reports.
The report found that one in five US special operations teams advising the local police units said the Afghan militia had committed violence or abused civilians, the newspaper said.
US troops also have alleged the Afghan police engaged in drug abuse, bribe taking, rape and drug trafficking, the Times said, citing the study.
The report said the presence of the local police had not reduced insurgent activity.
Instead, violence usually increased after US special forces entered an area to clear out the Taliban. But once the Americans withdrew with a local police force in place, the violence usually just dropped back to the level seen before the US forces first arrived, it said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little insisted the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program has proven effective and that generally Afghan security forces have made “tremendous progress” that he said has often been overlooked.
“We remain very committed to the ALP program,” he told reporters.
“We realize they will continue to face challenges. They’re on track, their capabilities are growing and we will continue to support them,” he said.
Previous coalition programs to establish local police were scrapped before this latest attempt.
Designed to extend the reach of the Afghan army to rural areas, the local police are supposed to guard checkpoints, turn over suspected insurgents to regular troops and provide some intelligence on the Taliban.
Petraeus, the former chief of NATO-led forces who now leads the Central Intelligence Agency, has described the ALP as a “night watch with AK-47s”.
As commander, he often cited the program as a success.
“In some cases, they have ?flipped’ communities who once even actively supported the Taliban,” Petraeus said in a 2010 article published by the Defense Department’s official press service.