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U.S. military acknowledges abuse by Afghan militias it trains

By Ernesto Londoño,

KABUL — Members of local police forces that the United States sees as vital to ending the Afghan war have committed human rights abuses, the U.S. military acknowledged in a report issued late Thursday.

The report summarized the findings of an investigation carried out in response to a Human Rights Watch probe that implicated members of Afghan Local Police, or ALP, units in killings, rapes, arbitrary detentions and land grabs.

U.S. military officials recently announced plans to triple the ranks of the village paramilitary groups, which are trained by U.S. Special Forces, from their current strength of nearly 10,000. American commanders say the groups are uniquely qualified to secure areas that would otherwise be run by insurgents. But their creation has raised concerns about the empowerment of armed militias in a country with a long history of tribal feuds and weak government institutions.

Air Force Brig. Gen. James R. Marrs’s investigation substantiated some of the 32 allegations detailed in the human rights group’s report, although not the most serious of them.

Marrs said his team was unable to corroborate several of the allegations in the rights group’s report because of a lack of evidence and witnesses.

One case deemed credible involved an ALP member who was stabbed by two members of a separate ALP unit in May. In another case, ALP members detained Afghan police officers.

“The suspects were roughed up by the ALP, but not to the point where they required medical attention,” the military report said, referring to the detained officers.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday called on the Obama administration to abandon its plan to expand the paramilitary groups until the military takes significant steps to enhance oversight.

“The Afghan Local Police needs to be fixed before it can be expanded,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement.

The military’s report, which is dated Dec. 6, recommends improving training and discouraging rights abuses. Four days later, the commander of U.S. Special Forces, Adm. William McRaven, told reporters in Kabul that the military is expanding the local forces to 30,000. U.S. commanders view the groups as a cornerstone of the plan to delegate more responsibility for security to Afghans as foreign troops start to withdraw.

Marrs said in his report that Human Rights Watch’s cooperation with the military’s review of the allegations was “an enc uraging sign for future cooperation.” But he charged that the human rights group “ignores the vital service” local police forces “are providing every day to give Afghans a chance to end 30 years of conflict and to live secure and peaceful lives.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s president said Thursday that peace talks with the Taliban ought to take place in his country, an apparent rebuke to Qatar, which Afghan officials say was planning to allow the Taliban to open a political office in the Gulf emirate without coordinating with Afghan officials.

If peace talks with the Taliban must be held abroad because of the logistical challenges of holding them in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said, they should take place in Saudi Arabia or Turkey and only in coordination with Kabul.

Karzai’s announcement came a day after he recalled his ambassador to Qatar for consultations in response to reports that the tiny emirate would soon allow representatives of the Taliban to hold peace talks there with the United States. News reports about the imminent establishment of a Taliban office were attributed to anonymous diplomats.

“No country can interfere in the political process without the Afghan government’s permission,” Karzai said in a statement.

U.S. officials held preliminary talks with a Taliban envoy in Qatar earlier this year, but those discussions appear to have gone nowhere. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said recently that the United States does not have an open line of dialogue with the extremist group that has been battling U.S. and Afghan troops for years.

Karzai issued the statement after a round of meetings with members of the peace council he empaneled more than a year ago in an effort to negotiate a peace settlement.

Karzai suspended his effort after the September assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president who led the peace council. A suicide bomber who pretended to be a Taliban envoy delivering an important message killed the Afghan elder with explosives hidden in a turban.

The Taliban’s leaders have said they will not negotiate until the U.S.-led international military force in Afghanistan agrees to withdraw.

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

© The Washington Post Company