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بدھ، 2 فروری، 2011

Private mercenaries and the Afghan Army

 The involvement of Afghan generals in land grabbing and drug trafficking is a major threat for the NATO mission. In Kabul and many other districts, narcotics are transferred from one place to another in military vehicles.
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By Musa Khan Jalalzai

Ethnicity, misgovernment, corruption and political violence have put in danger the national unity of Afghanistan. All ethnic groups have their own thinking of national unity and concordance. The recent institutionalised ethnic and sectarian divisions, specifically in the police and army units raised some questions: whether Afghanistan will again become the battleground or will this persistent insecurity affect the security of neighbouring states? The decade-long civil war in the country has already left devastating effects on Pakistan’s economic performance and security infrastructure. This is a big challenge for Pakistan, which has close ethnic, sectarian, cultural, religious and tribal proximity with Afghanistan. Thus Pakistan understands the way Afghan forces are being trained and armed is not a proper method to create a standing military.

The US, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are training soldiers of the Afghan National Army but rely on private security agencies and rogue warlord armies. Coalition forces in Afghanistan feel more threatened by the Afghan National Army than the Taliban. Last year, several coalition soldiers were killed by their Afghan partners during a military patrol in the south. Afghan Army commanders have established close contacts with drug lords and the Taliban militia, provide them with arms and military information, including counter-insurgency strategies.

The police department is considered to be the most corrupt institution. Last year, Britain’s top representative warned that amid enduring suspicions over the reliability of local forces, Afghans are turning to the Taliban for justice. Drug trafficking, facilitation, corruption and the trends of alienation among the police force may delay the force’s ability to take over the responsibility of law and order enforcement in 2014. Smoking narcotics in police barracks is not new. Illiteracy is another issue that has badly affected the performance of the police. A police officer needs to have some notes, write down number plates of vehicles and take a necessary statement, but unfortunately, Afghan police are not able to read or write.

The involvement of Afghan generals in land grabbing and drug trafficking is a major threat for the NATO mission. In Kabul and many other districts, narcotics are transferred from one place to another in military vehicles. Generals and their cronies have grabbed thousands of acres of agricultural and government land across the country. Commanders of the Tajik-dominated army protect drug lords and the criminal mafia and supply arms to the dissidents across the border into Pakistan.

A recent report submitted to the British parliament has warned that: “Counter-insurgency in Afghanistan cannot succeed without two elements essential for success: a legitimate, functioning government and insurgents that are deprived of external sanctuary and support. Transition — efforts to build Afghan forces and transfer responsibilities to them — faces major obstacles and will take longer than anticipated.” If there is no functioning state in the country, what is the purpose of the presence of foreign forces there?

A black market economy and criminal trade has flourished while thousands of private security personnel have taken control of important places across the country. Keeping in view their secret links with insurgents and warlords, the Afghan president once cried that private security firms empowered warlords. Recent reports say some private security agencies have hired Iranian agents and Taliban soldiers. In Helmand and in Kandahar, US military officials discovered that Afghan security guards were passing sensitive security and troops information to the Taliban. At the same time a security firm — EOD — had hired two Iranian intelligence agents who were known to the US military intelligence.

An Afghan Security Council secret official and an aide to President Karzai, Muhammad Zai Salehi, was arrested in July 2010. The New York Times reported Salehi was accused of soliciting a bribe to help shut down an investigation into a company suspected of transferring millions of dollars out of the country for officials, insurgents and drug smugglers. This is not the only instance. There are innumerable cases of civil and military officials’ secret involvement with the Taliban. After the appearance of this news item, the NATO command issued new instructions for awarding billions of dollars worth of international contracts in Afghanistan.

Some reports of the Afghan Interior Ministry confirm that there are over 200 agents of Iranian Sepah-Ansar operating in Afghanistan. These agents are collecting sensitive information and facilitate the Taliban in arms and training. Reports revealed major warlords or their relatives or allies have been contracted for security services in four provinces. In Uruzgan province, Australian Special Forces and the US signed an agreement with a local warlord Matiullah Khan for protecting their convoys and military bases. His army is known for kidnapping and the drug trade. Matiullah Khan has built an army of 2,500 soldiers known as Kandak-e-Amniat-e-Uruzgan — Uruzgan Security Force. Warlord Matiullah Khan receives 340,000 dollars per month. This agreement is clearly evident of the US and NATO distrust of the Afghan National Army and the police. Military observer are of the opinion that now the US and NATO may not show more interest in building an Afghan Army as its soldiers are killing coalition forces. This distrust among the Afghan National Army, NATO and the Afghan police has strengthened the Taliban and Iran on the one hand and delayed the process of building a strong Afghan Army on the other. In southern Afghanistan, Canadian forces in 2007 hired a local warlord for the security of their forces. General Gulalai had helped the US in driving out the Taliban from Kandahar in 2001. Moreover, the Canadian military hired another warlord, Haji Toor Jan’s private army for the protection of its installations.

In Badakhshan, a local warlord who is in control of a significant portion of the drug trade provides security to the German Army’s Provincial Reconstruction Team. Warlord Nazari Muhammad receives thousands of dollars as a salary for his private army. The Afghan president, his brothers — Wali Karzai and Hashmat Karzai — the son of Afghan Defence Minister, Hamid Wardak — Pir Gailani — Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Rabbani, Gulbadin’s son, ex-army chief Fahim, General Dostum, Haji Din Muhammad and other warlords and parliamentarians have established their own private armies, which erode the strategic role of the Afghan National Army across the country.

According to two recent reports of the UN, ISAF forces have trained, armed and employed some 1,000 private security groups across Afghanistan. The UN has estimated that there are 120,000 armed individuals belonging to about 5,000 private militias in Afghanistan. As the US and NATO is ultimately dependent on private criminal armies, the existence of the Afghan National Army remains a question. If the US and NATO do not rely on the national army and Afghan police, the question is; what is the basic role and function of these two forces? The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gives arms, money and communication equipment to the warlords and has hired them on their payroll. These warlords, with the help of the CIA, consolidate their political control over different regions. The Afghan National Army is divided into five combat corps. But it has neither performed as a counter-insurgency force or as a strategic force.

The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and can be reached at zai.musakhan222@gmail.com
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