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Lessons from Iraq? US creates local militias to fight Taliban

With echoes of the Anbar Awakening in Iraq, the US is arming, training, and paying Afghans to set up village militias.

Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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At first sight, Muhammad Nasim Gul and his men – in drab, olive-colored fatigues and baseball caps to match – look like Cuban guerrillas. They slowly patrol the muddy streets of Wardak Province, weapons drawn in a constant state of alert.

They stand sentry, night and day, on the watch for intruders and other enemies. At times they stop to talk to the townsfolk, to see if anyone has had any trouble recently.

Mr. Gul and his fellow tribesmen are part of an ambitious new American-backed program that started here two weeks ago to train, uniform, and arm locals against the Taliban. Officials turned to the idea following the success of a similar plan in Iraq, known as the Anbar Awakening, in which Sunni tribes were armed to fight Al Qaeda. They hope the program, dubbed the "Afghan Public Protection Force," can help stem the worsening violence here.

"My tribesmen joined this force to protect our village," says Mr. Gul, a former policeman who is now a commander in the protection force of the Jalrez district of Wardak, a 30-minute drive from Kabul.

Under the plan, members of each district (council) in Wardak nominate locals for the force who are then trained for three weeks by Afghans (with the involvement of American advisers). They then return to their home districts, receiving nearly $125 dollars a month in salary – more than the typical police income, which is usually less than $100 a month. If successful in Wardak, officials plan to expand the program to more than 40 other districts across the south and east.

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