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Secret U.S. plan to support Afghan militias echoes Canadian general's ideas

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A secret U.S. plan to support anti-Taliban militias, which is raising concerns about further destabilizing Afghanistan, echoes similar ideas being voiced by the head of Canada's army.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A secret U.S. plan to support anti-Taliban militias, which is raising concerns about further destabilizing Afghanistan, echoes similar ideas being voiced by the head of Canada's army.

Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie, chief of land staff, has been arguing in recent interviews that tribal militias should be factored into Afghanistan's security architecture.

Over the weekend, reports emerged that the U.S. is doing just that with a program dubbed the Community Defence Initiative.

Said to have the support of NATO's Afghanistan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the program aims to provide resources to encourage tribal groups to fight the Taliban.

Supporting militias is a tactic that was debated by a group of international advisers early after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but was ruled out because warlords were considered too strong, Leslie said.

Now, it seems, things have changed.

"The Afghan National Army now is a powerful entity, and so there is no longer the same danger of arming tribal auxiliaries," Leslie said in an interview last week before news of the U.S. initiative emerged in weekend media reports.

"In the absence of any other silver bullet idea, I think its time to open a debate about arming some of the local auxiliary forces."

Ultimately, the decision to do so would have to come from the Afghan government, said Leslie, who stressed that the Canadian military has no plans of its own to train or arm tribal militias.

American officials are reportedly seeking to encourage the growth of anti-Taliban militias in the southern and eastern reaches of the country. The UK's Guardian newspaper reported U.S. special forces were supporting militias in 14 areas, including Paktia province, northeast of Kandahar.

The Canadian military declined to comment on the report Monday; Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa said he had not heard of it.

American military officials have indicated the program does not include providing weapons to the tribal groups, many of whom are already armed. But it does include ammunition, food and other resources.

"The last thing you want to do is scatter thousand of weapons across the entirety of Afghanistan because there is already enough here, thank you very much," Leslie said last week.

"So you have to carefully select who you arm and who you don't."

He highlighted the danger of recreating the tribal warlord systems that have dominated Afghanistan's recent history and which essentially prevented the emergence of a strong central government, indirectly fomenting the growth of the Taliban.

The Canadian military is already making limited use of tribal militias in Kandahar to provide security at reconstruction project sites.

But Leslie floated the idea of taking such projects one step further, tying development aid to a tribe's ability to secure their region.

"Now, professional aid workers don't like to hear that, because it potentially makes aid directly linked to support for indigenous governments," he said.

"But I like that idea. That's the good tension between long-term and short-term aid."

 
 
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