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Australian Ties to Afghan Warlord Harms Stability, Rights Activists Say


Afghanistan's independent human rights commission has criticized Australia's decision to train with militiamen reportedly loyal to an Afghan warlord. The six men have been in Australia to instruct the country's special forces in how to tackle the Taliban insurgency.

The Australian military says it invited six fighters to give its commandoes vital information about how to defeat the Taliban.

The men met Australian officers and oversaw combat exercises at army bases in Sydney and South Australia.

However, news reports and human rights groups say the men are loyal to the Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan, who has worked with the allied forces in his country.

Government critics say Khan is a questionable ally because of allegations of extortion and other criminal activity. Those allegations apparently prompted forces from the Netherlands to refuse to work with him and his followers.

Fahim Hakim, the deputy chairman of Afghanistan's human rights commission is in Australia attending a conference. He says Canberra's involvement with militia groups weakens efforts to build proper government in Afghanistan

"They are in a way out of the structure of Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, which means they are accountable to nobody except to their commander. So, it would further legitimize warlordism and it is a severe blow to maintaining law and order and to human rights," he said.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian Defense Force, says the men are Afghan police reservists, who will be fighting alongside elite SAS units in the future.

Military analysts say that exposure to Australian methods and standards could instill more discipline into Afghan militia forces. They point to training programs with soldiers from the Philippines and Indonesia as examples.

Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan. Most are training Afghan defense personnel in southern Uruzgan province. But SAS units have been on front line duty.

Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan began at the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Twenty-one Australians have died in the conflict, which has become increasingly unpopular with the public.

The government says its forces will start to withdraw from the troubled country in between two and four years.

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