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New Afghan Unit To Police 'Insecure' Areas

Afghan National Police training session in Wardak province in November 2008

Afghan National Police training session in Wardak province in November 2008

KABUL (Reuters) -- Plans are being drawn up to form a new Afghan security unit to patrol dangerous areas where the Taliban insurgency is most acute, government officials have said.

The unit, to be funded by the United States, will have its own uniform and work alongside the Afghan National Police (ANP), using the same weapons as the ANP who have AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told a news conference on January 31.

Atmar did not say how the unit would be recruited, how large it would be or exactly where it would be deployed.

Both NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan have spoken in the past few months about plans to recruit police from within communities by cooperating with community leaders and tribal elders in order to secure remote areas overrun by insurgents.

Some Afghan politicians have raised concerns about the units' resemblance to earlier and failed attempts to police hard-to-reach and hostile districts, which effectively out-sourced police work to local militias.

But Atmar insisted the new unit would come under the command of Afghan national security forces and would not use, or resemble, any kind of militia.

"They are part of the security forces of Afghanistan and by no means will they be under the command of anyone else, other than the leadership of the Afghan government," he said.

Atmar said the plans had the support of the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, but he would not say how many police were needed, if any had been recruited so far, or where they would be deployed.

"They will help to protect and secure highways, streets, schools and clinics in insecure parts of the country," Atmar said.

The number of recruits to the new unit, called the Public Protection Unit, will depend on an area's security needs: "It could be 10,000 to 20,000 in one area or 50,000 to 100,000, right now I can't give you a number," Atmar said.

The ANP have been accused of rampant corruption, from taking traffic bribes to working with opium barons, as well as helping the Taliban, and Atmar said that while such problems persisted, they had been reduced significantly in the past three months.