Afghanistan is increasingly relying on a "cheap but dangerous" national militia of some 30,000 fighters, some of whom have committed serious abuses in the communities they are supposed to protect, an international research group says.
The International Crisis Group said on June 4 that a pro-government militia known as the Afghan Local Police (ALP) has killed civilians and committed fraud, theft, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and extortion.
The government has come to rely on the ALP and other local militias as it struggles to fend off Taliban attacks, which have surged since the insurgents launched their annual spring offensive in April.
The ALP emerged from U.S. efforts to mobilize rural communities against the Taliban.
Today, the militiamen fight on the front lines, losing men at three to six times the rate of soldiers and police, while costing just $120 million a year, the think tank said.
But the militiamen are increasingly acting as vigilantes and power brokers in the areas they are supposed to police, and the government is finding it harder to rein them in, it said, citing unnamed officials.
The militia members engaged in abuses even when U.S. Special Forces teams were training them, the report said.
About 20 percent of U.S. teams in 2011 reported seeing ALP fighters commit physical abuse and violence; 12 percent reported bribe-taking.
The U.S. forces also reported salary fraud, theft, rape, drug abuse, and trafficking, as well as the selling or renting of ALP weapons and vehicles.
In northern Faryab Province, one unit was accused of rape, looting, and using a dry well filled with snakes as a torture chamber, the report said.
In 2014, the United Nations recorded 53 civilians killed by pro-government militias, almost triple the 2013 number.
Moreover, the presence of the militia has not made communities safer.
The report found that in the five provinces without an ALP presence, violence declined by 27 percent between 2010 and 2014, while in the country as a whole violence spiked by 14 percent.
And in the northern Kunduz Province, where the Taliban launched a major assault in April, ALP abuses led residents to chase the militia out of some areas, clearing the way for the Taliban to advance, the report said.
The think tank urged the Afghan government to strengthen oversight of the militia, adding that Kabul should identify units that worsen security and eliminate them.
Overall, however, Afghanistan's government has welcomed support from the local militias, Deutsche Welle reports.
The militias claim that they have received ammunition from the government, although Kabul denies that.
Kunduz lawmaker Kemal Safi told the German broadcaster that he was worried that the state is arming the lawless groups, but is not able to control them.
"We have a weak state and powerful militias. They are not answerable to anyone. The current situation might lead to another crisis," he said.
Based on reporting by AP and Deutsche Welle