KABUL— U.S. and NATO military commanders across Afghanistan are preparing plans for village-based defense forces that will receive arms and funds in a bid to beat back Taliban insurgents in rural towns where President Hamid Karzai's government has scant control.

The Pentagon has requested congressional approval to divert an initial $35 million from the budget for the Afghan security forces to form the new local police groups. Critics say local militias could pose a security threat without careful monitoring.

Although blessed by Mr. Karzai, the local police forces will create a parallel system, likely to be shaped more by local tribal leaders than the Afghan central government because Kabul has so little sway in those areas.

But U.S. military officials—who say the Afghans have shaped the latest iteration of the local police—hope the initiative, modeled on a similar program in Iraq, will force Kabul to pay more attention to the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan's rural areas.

Once the Afghan Ministry of Interior finalizes the regulations, which is expected this month, U.S. military officials will be free to start setting up the units.

In anticipation of the final approvals, the U.S. military has purchased equipment for the first 10 local police units, according to military officials. U.S. officials say the units are meant to be purely defensive. They will be armed only with AK-47 rifles and have limited powers.

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