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01/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

US To Start Arming Afghan Militias

Anna Mulrine reports from Afghanistan for U.S. News and World Report:

The U.S. military will soon launch a pilot program to raise local militias, paid by the Pentagon, in an effort to improve security throughout the country.

The plan is modeled in part on a similar program in Iraq to build up Sunni neighborhood militias. But officials warn that the forces must be carefully vetted to avoid repeating the mistakes of Afghanistan's past, notably bolstering local warlords.

The new program in Afghanistan, tentatively dubbed the Afghanistan Social Outreach Program, has a number of backers. Two weeks ago, it was approved by President Karzai, with the endorsement of the ministers of interior and defense. "There is common agreement among the Afghan leadership, people, and international forces that there needs to be a bottom-up approach to security and progress in this country, as well as a top-down central government approach," says Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As in Iraq, the Afghan forces would be on the U.S. payroll, which officials hope will also entice some former insurgents to work with NATO forces. "We bring money so we can hire young men to be the first line of defense" in small towns throughout Afghanistan, says a senior U.S. military official in Kabul. "We wouldn't be surprised if some of them used to be insurgents. We figure this is a way to crack the nut."

Click here to read the full piece. Danger Room's Noah Shachtman comments:

The idea has been floating in military circles for more than a year, at least. But there's been concerned that Afghanistan's tribes are too fractured, too shredded by the Taliban -- and too much at each other's throats -- to pull it off. That's one of the reasons why NATO cancelled an "auxilliary" police program, back in April. "Afghanistan has long struggled with warring tribes and warlords," said U.S. Army Brigadier General Robert Cone, the top coalition training officer, told our own David Axe in a March telephone interview. "What we saw was that the effect of paying people to support us when we needed them, despite the positive impact over time, also had the effect of arming people who were not necessarily in line with the [Afghan] government."

So the Afghan program will differ from the Iraq model, as wise observers have counseled. "While the Sons of Iraq groups were often assembled by local tribes, the tribes of Afghanistan are in disarray, weakened by decades of war," Mulrine writes. "U.S. forces plan to convene special shuras, or meetings of elders, to select the candidates and vouch for them."

Makes sense. But the Sons of Iraq also worked as a program because tribal leaders in Anbar were fed up with Al Qaeda in Mespotamia -- and had already started to take matters in their own hands. Is their a similar seed of opposition in Afghanistan?