KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan government will formally start a U.S.-funded effort to recruit armed local militias in the battle against the Taliban in remote parts of the country, exporting the tactic to Afghanistan from Iraq.
The first militias will be established in Wardak Province, in eastern Afghanistan, in coming weeks, officials said. If the effort in Wardak is successful, U.S. commanders hope to create similar forces in other parts of Afghanistan in early 2009.
The militia push is part of a growing American effort to bypass the struggling Afghan central government and funnel resources to Afghan villages and provinces. Senior American officials have stepped up their criticism of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in recent weeks, making clear that they believe his government needs to do more to fight corruption and deliver basic services.
In Iraq, the U.S. decision to recruit tens of thousands of Sunni Arab fighters, including many former insurgents, is widely credited with improving the country's security situation.
"Afghanistan historically has been known as a country where local communities took care of themselves," U.S. Ambassador William Wood said in an interview in Kabul. "The way to counter the Taliban today is to make the communities themselves stronger, so they can protect their villages, their fields, their towns and their valleys."
During a weekend visit, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. focus on establishing a strong central government in Afghanistan may have been "overstated." He said the U.S. would now focus more on "enabling the communities, the tribes and their leaders."
"How strong the central government will be in the future, I think, is yet to be determined," he told reporters.
The militia push is controversial. Karzai vetoed an earlier American proposal to create local forces because he feared they might one day fall under the sway of regional warlords, according to a senior official in the Interior Ministry.
Some U.S. allies also oppose the idea. Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay told the Canadian Press news agency this week that creating local forces could prove "counterproductive" and said the Canadian government was "not on board" with the idea.