A U.S.-backed program to increase security in remote parts of Afghanistan aims to recruit 10-person teams of local police in about 900 villages by March, a senior U.S. officer said Tuesday.
The program, known as Afghan Local Police, is emerging as a key priority for Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior commander in Afghanistan, as he seeks rapid improvement in security before July, the deadline set by President Obama for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
In order to build the force quickly, recruits are being offered roughly $120 a month along with a small stipend for food, a substantial sum in many of the impoverished areas where the police units will be formed. That amounts to an annual salary of $1,440 in a country where the per capita income in 2009 was $370, according to the World Bank.
The pay is 40% less than that being offered recruits to the Afghan national police, a disparity that reflects the more modest duties of the local police, whose mission Petraeus has likened to that of an armed community watch.
Salaries for village officers are lower to avoid luring recruits way from the national police, a force of more than 109,000 that the U.S. is attempting to expand and professionalize at the same time the local police units are being formed.
The initial goal for the new program, which is run by the Afghan Interior Ministry with heavy U.S. involvement, is to put 10,000 local police in some of the most violent parts of Afghanistan, but Petraeus also has directed his staff to begin planning for a force at least twice that size, several military officers and civilian officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deliberations.
The size of the local police force is a matter of continuing discussion between the International Security and Assistance Force, the multinational command that Petraeus heads, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, which agreed to the program last summer only after heavy U.S. pressure.
“Most everyone does expect it to grow,” the senior official said, though he acknowledged that the Interior Ministry “has not announced plans above” 10,000.
To assuage Afghan concerns about setting up a parallel police force, the U.S. agreed to controls aimed at ensuring the village police are closely linked to the Interior Ministry and the Afghan national police units in the districts where the units are formed. An Afghan district is equivalent to a U.S. county.
About 30 to 35 Afghan districts will participate in the program initially, with about 30 villages in each district set to have local police units, the senior officer said. U.S. special forces teams will advise the village police, along with Afghan national police officers, he said. The program is also intended to be temporary, with current plans calling for disbanding the units in two or three years or incorporating them into the national police, the U.S. officer said.