The Pentagon is defending a controversial plan that was approved by Afghanistan's National Security Council on Wednesday, to create local police units in villages in key areas to supplement efforts by the regular police and the army.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says creating the local police is a temporary measure designed to expand security into areas where the regular police and the army do not yet have enough forces to operate. He says the goal is to enable local people to reject the Taliban with at least some protection provided by these local units, which will be able to call in stronger forces, if necessary.
"Let's get some locals who care for their communities, who know best who should be there and who shouldn't," said Geoff Morrell. "Let's get them in an established framework within the government, uniformed, vetted, paid, accountable. And let's put them to work in their communities."
Morrell says people in some Afghan villages have demonstrated their desire to resist the Taliban by defying the group's orders and providing information to Afghan and coalition forces. But he acknowledges that the number of such instances is too small to be considered a trend.
"We clearly have seen examples of local communities repelling attempts by the Taliban to infiltrate and intimidate their communities," he said. "We've also, though, seen examples where there are communities that may not have stepped up in that demonstrable a way, but clearly want to, and are looking for help in doing so."
Morrell also denies that the plan to create the local police units created any significant dispute between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the new American and NATO commander in Kabul, U.S. Army General David Petraeus. Morrell says the two men have been meeting daily since the general arrived this month, and that they have had "valuable conversations" on this and other issues.
"It is clearly a sensitive issue for President Karzai and the Afghan government and the Afghan people, given their history with militias and war lords," said Morrell. "And we are certainly understanding and sensitive to that. But that is not what General Petraeus is proposing here."
Morrell says the local police forces will not be militias, but rather will be lightly armed and will be under the command of the Afghan government. In Iraq, some militias and individuals joined local defense groups under U.S. command. Their status later became a difficult issue.
Morrell says U.S. officials know that cooperation with the government and international forces can be dangerous for Afghans. But he says that if enough people are willing to participate, the effort has the potential to end Taliban intimidation in their villages. The similar project in Iraq played a significant role in reversing insurgent momentum, and U.S. officials say an Afghan version could do the same there.