KABUL (Reuters) - A scheme that pays and arms Afghans to defend their villages against insurgents is being hindered by corruption and the difficulty of distinguishing the guards from other armed groups, a U.S. military report has said.
The Afghan Local Police units were a flagship project of U.S. General David Petraeus, who stepped down as commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan earlier this year, but they have been criticised by rights groups, including in a Human Rights Watch report in September.
They aim to use modest salaries and foreign mentors to build or formalise local protection networks in areas with a heavy presence of insurgents and few soldiers or police, but critics say their lack of training and accountability can make them a threat to the public.
An investigation by U.S. forces in Afghanistan into the HRW allegations found that some were credible, said a report dated December 6 but only made public this week.
"Many of the allegations that are tied to ALP are in fact not ALP units. Unfortunately there are many groups out there that claim to be ALP or are identified as ALP," a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said on Saturday.
"This was a finding by the investigating team and there were recommendations made ... to address this problem," he said.
They include the possibility of introducing a standard uniform for all ALP members, and better education and awareness of the groups.
The controversial groups, formed in response to worsening security in Afghanistan, have worked in some areas, with Afghans citing improvements in security. But in others, criminals and insurgents are joining the ALP or government-backed militias, securing access to money and guns, the HRW report said.
The ALP is likely to be expanded and extended, a senior officer from the NATO-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan said on Monday, as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan completely by the end of 2014.
Original plans called for up to 30,000 members, although only around 10,000 are in place at the moment.
The investigation, conducted by U.S. Air Force Brigadier General James Marrs, said the ALP was "effective" and in the main complied with orders concerning human rights, but in his report he acknowledged there were shortcomings.
"Ethnic divisions, political differences, power struggles and corruption are some of the multiple challenges to overcome before the system will become most effective," Marrs wrote.
"Many of these issues are not restricted to local areas and extend up to the executive branch of the Afghan government."
Editing by Paul Tait