Saturday, July 17, 2010

This Isn't Enough, But It's a Start

General Petraeus has President Karzai's formal approval to expand local defense forces in Afghanistan to help fight the Taliban:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has approved a U.S.-backed plan to create local defense forces across the country in an attempt to generate new grassroots opposition to the Taliban, U.S. and Afghan officials said Wednesday.

The plan Karzai approved calls for the creation of as many as 10,000 "community police" who would be controlled and paid by the Interior Ministry, according to a senior Afghan government official.

U.S. military officials said the community police program would be modeled upon a set of local defense units, called the Afghan Public Protection Police, created over the past year in Wardak province by U.S. Special Forces. That effort has achieved mixed results, according to several military sources, but it has been regarded as the most palatable of the various local security initiatives pushed by the U.S. military because its members wear uniforms and report to the Interior Ministry.

I've long wanted to go this way. Karzai apparently fears arming his own people more than he fears failing to fight the Taliban. It is true that local defense forces can lose their usefulness and become a problem for the government. Heck, even Sadr's militias in the early years of the Iraq War were useful to guard their neighborhoods. Only later did the Shia militia become a problem. So Afghan militias could be a problem in the future.

But one problem at a time, I say. Right now the problem is the Taliban and local defense forces can be part of the solution. Ten thousand is fine as an interim step. But I think many tens of thousands more will be needed to function as eyes and ears. In that role, they can call in our forces and Afghan regulars to go after Taliban rather than function as combat forces, even though their ability to defend in place is obviously of value.

But like everything else about Afghanistan, accept baby steps as progress and build on that rather than whine that we haven't instantly solved a problem.