Doubts grow over replacing the foreign troops

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

KABUL, 10 May 2011 (IRIN) - The future of humanitarian and development work in Afghanistan hinges on the ability of the fledgling Afghan national security forces to curb insecurity and restore stability as US/NATO forces prepare a gradual withdrawal from July, aid agencies say.

“If the national security forces that are left behind in 2014 are unable to provide for the security of the population, and the indications at the moment are that this will indeed be the case, then we can expect that they'll also be unable to provide the security conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance,” Rebecca Barber, a humanitarian policy and advocacy adviser with Oxfam, told IRIN.

“This will have serious implications for the Afghan people - millions of whom are reliant upon humanitarian aid,” she added.

Afghan police and army soldiers will replace foreign forces in at least five locations in the country in July and a transition process, agreed by the Afghan government and NATO, will be complete in December 2014.

Donors plan to train more than 300,000 Afghan police and army force by October 2011 and NATO will continue paying their costs – which exceed Afghanistan’s GDP – for a long period.

Violations could escalate

But US/NATO forces, who train Afgan security groups, are not doing enough to prevent abuses and have been “too slow” in addressing the issue before the transition, two NGOs and two INGOs said in a report issued on 10 May.

“Unless better checks and balances are put in place and training urgently stepped up, there is a serious risk that abuses and violations by Afghan forces will escalate as they play an increasingly frontline role,” states the report, No Time to Lose.

About 2,777 civilians lost their lives to conflict in 2010, mostly at the hands of anti-government insurgents, the UN said in a report in March.

The NGOs’ report also accuses Afghan forces, particularly the controversial Afghan Local Police (ALP), of perpetuating crimes such as torture, killings and recruitment and sexual abuse of children with impunity.

“The majority of the population still regards the police in particular as corrupt, incompetent, unprofessional and abusive,” said Oxfam’s Barber, who wrote the report.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry initially agreed to comment on the NGOs’ report but later declined. A February 2011 survey by the UN Development Programme said that 79 percent of Afghans held a favourable opinion of the police.

Growing criminality

At least seven NGO workers were killed, mostly by criminals, while seven were abducted in the first three months of 2011, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).

“Attacks against NGOs by armed opposition have remained stable and low throughout [January-March], although the overall level of incidents, mostly as a result of banditry, has grown by 38 percent,” ANSO said in a quarterly report on 24 April.

ANSO, which alleges that the Taliban does not routinely target NGOs as a matter of policy, ranks collateral damage and accidental strikes with improvised explosive devices as the highest risk factor facing NGOs.

The NGOs, meanwhile, have voiced concerns about the proliferation of armed groups including the ALP, whom they accuse of involvement in kidnapping, beatings and other criminal acts. The government, backed by US/NATO, has been using the ALP to counter the intensified insurgency in rural areas where the police and army presence is weak.

“It’s very difficult to imagine that this situation could be turned around in just three years,” said Barber.

“It’s not too late; but what is required is genuine political commitment at the highest levels of civilian and military leadership, both Afghan and international, to build national security forces that Afghans can trust,” the report said.