Karzai tightens grip on local Afghan militias

Karzai issued the deadline on Thursday, arguing military and police units under the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ready to take over all security operations in Afghanistan ahead of schedule. 

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Further, Kabul has assembled a delegation assigned to identify and reach out to the various local paramilitary groups and militias fighting Taliban and other insurgent groups all across rural Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press. 

The DOD has touted these local militias, established by U.S. military and intelligence officials via the Village Stability Program and other efforts, as one of the bright spots in the more than decade-long Afghan war. 

That said, the Karzai administration is not looking to bring the various units under the Afghan Local Police under his control, presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told the AP on Thursday, noting those forces are already controlled by the Interior Ministry. 

Karzai's delegation, according to Faizi, will target "parallel structures" to the ANSF and local police units in Afghanistan, specifically those backed by American intelligence and U.S. special operations forces. 

Many inside the Pentagon have drawn parallels between local anti-Taliban militias 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. 

"They have not been crushed. There are more of them," Lt. Gen. James Terry, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, told reporters in January. 

"I think there's great potential for them to at some point," the three-star general said regarding the growth of local Afghan resistance efforts.

Thursday's deadline is only the latest move by the Karzai government to exert more control over the country's national security priorities and reinforce Kabul as the de facto military and government authority in the country. 

Earlier this month, Karzai expelled U.S. special operations forces from Wardak province in central Afghanistan, amid accusations of torture and murder of Afghan civilians by American special forces. 

That decision, coupled with Thursday's demands on local militias, indicates a trend among Afghan leaders of playing to the growing anti-American sentiment within the country, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told The Hill on Tuesday. 

Sensing the end is near, local and national leaders are doing all they can to solidify their power bases across Afghanistan, according to the Texas Republican. 

Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services emerging threats and intelligence subcommittee, said he was "worried" these type of knee-jerk decisions restricting American operations in the run up to the 2014 withdrawal could place U.S. and allied forces at risk. 

However, one Navy intelligence officer argues the militias -- if left unchecked by the Karzai government -- could pose serious problem to U.S. and NATO efforts to extend Kabul's authority in the country. 

If Afghan citizens learn to depend on militia groups to provide security, local leaders will look less toward the Karzai government for support, Navy intelligence officer Lt. James Isbell said during an interview with The Hill in eastern Afghanistan last November. 

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 at the time. 

"Andar [province] is not Anbar, but a lot of people think it is," Isbell added.