By Carlo Muñoz - 01/23/13 08:32 PM EST
"There are still a series of Afghan ... local movements that are out there," Lt. Gen. James Terry, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, told reporters Wednesday.
U.S. and NATO commanders have been closely tracking these grassroots resistance movements across the country, spearheaded by local leaders and citizens with the support of Afghan and coalition security forces.
Many inside the Pentagon have drawn parallels between local anti-Taliban movements in the Andar district of Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan to those that took place in Anbar province in western Iraq in 2006.
The so-called "Anbar Awakening" in Iraq was touted as a critical turning point in the war, marking the first time local Iraqis made an organized effort to fight back against insurgents in the country.
The progress being made in Andar and elsewhere in Afghanistan has "great potential" for shifting the tide of the war against the Taliban, just as the U.S. is preparing to pull its combat troops from the country next year, according to Terry.
"They have not been crushed. There are more of them," the three-star general said regarding the growith of local Afghan resistance efforts. "I think there's great potential for them to at some point," he added.
Their impact on U.S. and coalition war plans could be felt more immediately, in light of President Obama's decision to accelerate the planned handover of all security operations from American and NATO control to the Afghans.
That handover, initially expected by 2014, will now be complete by this summer, Obama said during a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this month.
Part of that acceleration will include rapidly withdrawing U.S. forces currently stationed inside Afghan towns and villages across the country.
The withdrawal of those forces could result in a larger role for these resistance movements in maintaining security at the district and provincial level.
However, one U.S. military intelligence officer in eastern Afghanistan said the Pentagon should not be too quick to draw conclusions between what is going on in Andar and what happened in Iraq seven years earlier.
"Andar [province] is not Anbar, but a lot of people think it is," Navy Lt. James Isbell, the intelligence officer for the reconstruction team stationed in Ghazni province, said during an interview with The Hill in eastern Afghanistan last November.
To Isbell, empowering local militias like those in Andar could end up derailing efforts by Washington to strengthen ties between provincial leaders and the central government in Kabul.
If Afghan citizens learn to depend on militia groups to provide security, local leaders will look less toward the Afghan National Security Forces and the central government for support.
Given the traditionally weak ties between local leaders and the central government, armed local militias without oversight by U.S. forces after 2014 could develop into a serious threat to Kabul's hold across rural Afghanistan, Isbell added.
That said, American commanders have already begun to harness these localized movements via the Village Stability Program, designed to provide training and assistance in order to mold these groups into militia-type military units.
U.S. commanders plan to continue that program, among others, in conjunction with the central Afghan government in Kabul, according to Terry.
"We work with the Afghan National Security Forces, specifically the minister of interior and his forces, to try to identify those opportunities and . . . move forward, where we can, to make sure that they . . . continue to grow," Terry said.