GARDEZ KHALA, AFGHANISTAN — Armored vehicles carrying U.S. troops and Afghan special forces arrive at this remote village and are greeted by dozens of angry men.
They scream that the Afghan Local Police, local men trained by coalition forces to keep the Taliban out, are holding their sons captive inside the fortress-like walls of a police checkpoint on suspicion of working for the Taliban.
What they don’t know is that the arrests are fake, a ruse by Afghan special forces to obtain information on Taliban activity. Among those “arrested” are secret village informants who need to deliver their reports to the Afghan police out of sight of Taliban spies.
“It was a trick so the Taliban won’t come to the village and kill them (the informants),” said Capt. Abdul Monir Jabar Khal of the Afghan National Army Special Forces.
The method is unconventional by American military standards. But Afghans are adapting U.S. counterterrorism methods to their culture in preparation for a drawdown of American forces next year. And it’s working, some say.
“We’re trying to let them (Afghan special forces) run the show,” said Col. Patrick Roberson with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, also known as CJSOTF-A.
The police force was begun years ago under Afghanistan forces commander Gen. David Petraeus as the best way to keep out the Taliban from remote villages once U.S. troops are largely gone in 2014. Cops in every hamlet and city in Afghanistan keep an eye out for Taliban infiltrators and confront them when necessary.
The job of creating the force went to NATO Special Operations, which have helped the ALP overcome corruption and ineptitude in its ranks to push the Taliban from their regions.
The Green Berets and other special operations units will remain in Afghanistan after the drawdown. But they are providing less NATO combat assistance this year than in previous years, and the ALP is stepping up, the U.S. military says.
In one example in Andar province, the Taliban recently launched a coordinated attack on several ALP checkpoints but were beaten back and left behind two dozen dead fighters. Green Berets did have to pitch in to the battle, however.
“We didn’t do too much,” said Colby, the captain of a small Green Beret force at an outpost known as District Stability Platform Miri. Special operations units do not allow their members to be identified by full name.
“Every ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) element responded in some way or another,” Colby says.
PROGRESS IS VISIBLE
Afghan Local Police recruits are selected by tribal leaders from their home villages, in essence protecting families and friends. After a three-week training program they return home to protect their villages with NATO Special Ops, who school them in real-world security for at least another six months.
They fight as well. The casualty rate for the ALP is nearly three times that of the Afghan National Army.
“One of our main goals is just creating a sustainable ALP that’s capable of operating after we eventually leave,” said Colby.
The progress can be seen in Andar, a farming district of mostly unpaved roads in Ghazni province and a known hub for Taliban and al-Qaida, according to The Long War Journal. Senior Taliban and al-Qaida foreign fighter facilitators are known to operate in the district.
In recent months, the ALP and other Afghan forces have set up numerous checkpoints throughout the district, carving out territory once dominated by the Taliban and its shadow government. One of those places is the Miri Bazaar, a few blocks of produce sellers, mobile phone shops and auto parts sellers that until recently was largely shuttered by the Taliban.
“This time last year there were only one or two shops open,” Colby said.
Andar District Governor Mohammed Kasim Disiwal said the reopening of Miri is a milestone for the people.
“Eight months ago we (U.S. special forces and local officials) started working together,” said Disiwal. “Now the market is open, the kids are going to school and people can go to the health clinic for care.”
Produce seller Amin Jaan returned to Andar a month ago from Kabul. A native of Andar, Jaan said he reopened his shop after he heard that the market was doing business.
“It’s safe here now,” said Jaan while bagging vegetables purchased by the American soldiers for that night’s dinner. “But there are Taliban around — and they are difficult to recognize.”
“I’m sure there are Taliban still in here, but overall, I think the people understand the benefits of the ALP program.”
The Taliban disagree.
“These claims that the mujahadeen (Taliban) are facing problems or were forced to leave some areas of Andar is total propaganda,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
But the Taliban clearly see the ALP as a problem. Earlier this year, in separate attacks, the Taliban executed 17 members of the local police at their checkpoints.
ABUSES ARE COMMON
As much as Colby praises the ALP and other Afghan forces for their efforts, he concedes that abuses of power are not uncommon to the ranks of the local police in Andar and the civilian anti-Taliban movement that started here last year, gaining international attention.
The members of the uprising are accused of abusing their newfound authority, extorting locals in exchange for protection.
An anti-Taliban movement leader, Haji Faizullah Faizan, downplayed reports of abuses, saying the Taliban are the real culprits.
“The Taliban put the people of Andar in a cage — they couldn’t leave their homes,” Faizan said. “So now that the Taliban are gone from some areas, they say the ALP and the anti-Taliban movement are abusing their own people.”
Amid the accusations, ALP commander in Andar Latifullah Kamran has also been said to abuse his authority by stealing funds for his policemen appropriated by the Afghan Ministry of Interior.
Though Colby works closely with Kamran, he conceded there are “corruption issues” associated with the ALP leader and his men, who are accused of shaking down the merchants in Miri for protection money.
Chris Reid, an American civilian adviser to the Afghan Uniform Police, agrees that corruption exists but that the ALP is getting better.
“Eight months ago the ALP were shooting each other in the market,” Reid said. “Now they are just shaking down merchants for a little protection money. I call that progress.”
Contributing: Zubair Babakarkhail in Kabul