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US Looks at Iraq-Style Community Policing for Afghanistan

The Pentagon is preparing what it calls a "pilot program" to organize local Afghan citizens to help secure their towns and neighborhoods. The program is similar to one in Iraq that was a key factor in security improvements there during the last year.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman confirmed the plan to launch the program, which was first reported by The New York Times.

"It is, I guess, best described as kind of a grassroots program, with prospects that could lead to improved Afghanistan security," Whitman said. "This is more of a pilot program, a very modest initial look at a community type policing program."

Whitman describes the plan as an Afghan government initiative that U.S. and NATO forces are supporting. He says it will start in Wardak Province, near Kabul, where Taliban fighters have been gaining strength in recent months.

Whitman says the idea is to deputize local citizens to improve security and extend the reach of the Afghan government.

"This is designed to facilitate sharing of information, building trust, all with an eye toward improving governance at the district and provincial level and connecting it better to the central government," Whitman said.

Whitman says the initial program will involve only several dozen Afghans, but the Times says commanders plan to expand it rapidly if it succeeds.

A similar program in Iraq organized more than 100,000 local citizens, including former insurgents, and put them at checkpoints and local police stations. Commanders credit the program with improving security, partly by turning government opponents into allies. The Iraqi government is in the process of taking responsibility for those forces, absorbing some into the security services and disbanding others.

Officials say it was not necessary to provide weapons to the Iraqi groups, which became known as the Sons of Iraq. The New York Times says there is a plan to provide arms to the Afghan citizens' groups, but Whitman could not confirm that. The Times also quotes Afghans as saying the plan could lead to new local militias and potentially spark a civil war. But Whitman says it is "premature" to be concerned about such things.

The former U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is now in charge of U.S. efforts in both wars. He has said he wants to transfer some of the concepts used in Iraq to the increasingly difficult fight in Afghanistan. And while he acknowledges the two wars are very different, and he has not said exactly which techniques will transfer and which will not, he believes both have the same top priority - providing security so government efforts to build long-term stability can take hold.