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Army Develops Despite Militia Disarmament Problems

Government taking steps to build a single unified national army through the disarmament of the militias, but it's been an uphill battle in the north.
By Yaqub Ibrahimi

A year after it was launched, serious questions are being raised about the progress of a multi-million dollar programme designed to disarm the militias that continue to control the north and north-eastern sections of the country.

But at the same time, steps are being taken to strengthen and expand the Afghan National Army, which is meant to totally replace the militias.

On September 26, a new Afghan National Army unit, the Northern Eagle Army Corps or Corps 209, based in Mazar and comprised of 3,000 soldiers, was officially formed. This followed the formation last week of the Hero Army Corps in Kandahar, the Lightning Army Corps in Paktia and the Central Army Corps in Kabul. The Victory Army Corps was to be officially inaugurated in Herat on September 28.

Defense Minister Marshal Fahim made the announcement at a ceremony in the presence of defense ministry officials and the heads of the Coalition and International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, troops. General Atta Mohammad, now governor of Balkh province, was also present.

Fahim added that by next June there would be another army corps formed in Kunduz and one in Nangarhar province, bringing the total number of soldiers in the new Afghan National Army to 70,000. By then, it is anticipated that all militias in the country would have been disarmed and dissolved.

Referring to local militias, Fahim said, “Time for the use of arms is gone, and all those who are armed, in order to prevent war and chaos must lay down their arms and surrender them to the national army.

“I’m extremely happy to form the first national army in Afghanistan ... A free country needs a complete disciplined army. Formation of a national army is the indicator that we are moving from crisis towards stability and security.”

Disarming the militias has been a key part of the government’s countrywide Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, DDR, plan, a 167-million US dollar programme being run by the United Nations.

But militias associated with three generals - Mohammad Daoud, Atta Mohammad, and Juma Khan Hamdard – still hold much of the military power in the north and north-east parts of Afghanistan and retain some of their heavy arms and small arms.

Some are dissatisfied with the pace of the programme in the north and question whether the government strategies to reduce the military power of the warlords have been entirely effective.

Milos Krsmanovic, head of the northern regional office for DDR, concedes the programme is going slowly. "I cannot say whether [it] will succeed or not," he said. “The local commanders didn’t cooperate fully with the DDR process, and the central government was not serious about putting enough pressure on the local commanders who were not cooperating with DDR process.”

The DDR programme was created in October 2003 to disarm the powerful private militias of local commanders, provide jobs and training for the former fighters, and help build a single, professional Afghan National Army.

As part of the government’s disarmament strategy in the north, and in order to impose its authority there, President Hamed Karzai last month appointed Daoud and Atta Mohammad to regional and national government positions. With those appointments they officially lost their leadership positions of their respective militias.

Daoud, who was commander of the 6th Corps in Kunduz, was made deputy interior minister of narcotics affairs on August 16. Atta, who commanded the 7th Army Corps in Balkh province, was appointed governor of that province on August 1.

In addition Karzai appointed Hamdard, who heads the 8th corps, governor of Baghlan province on August 15. But because of local opposition, that appointment has yet to become official.

The appointments came as no surprise to Raziq Mamoon, a political analyst based in Kabul. "The posts that have been given to them (the warlords) were the result of a deal,” he said.

"The first strategy of the government after the collapse of Taleban was to [give] the powerful senior military commanders civil positions because the government couldn't impose its authority and power into the area of these military commanders.

“The government thought that by changing these commanders [positions] into civil posts, it could impose its power in the areas under the control of these commanders. But it didn’t work because even though they have these civil positions in government, their deputies who are now head of the militias still respect these ex-commanders.”

A political analyst based in Mazar, who didn’t want to be named, also believes that Daoud, Atta Mohammad and Hamdard will try to maintain their local power and at the same time not lose their militias.

“The commanders were placed in these posts, not because they have the ability to do the job, but because of their military power,” he told IWPR. "[For example] Atta Mohammad knows he wouldn’t governor if he didn’t have military power ... and even though Atta Mohammad is the governor of Balkh, he still has the military power of the 7th Army Corps through one of his previous assistants, General Saboor, who is the commander of the corps temporarily."

Political analyst Habibullah Rafi said, "Because those who have weapons enjoy higher positions in the government as well, they make an obstacle to the process and do not want their men to be disarmed."

For months, the government has insisted that DDR is one of its top priorities.

On July 14, Karzai signed a decree promising to crack down on any commander who did not comply with DDR.

On August 30, Deputy Defence Minister Raheem Wardag said in a meeting attended by commanders from all over the country that those who had enlisted in the DDR programme should turn in their weapons before the elections.

Defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi told IWPR, “The problem [of commanders and their militias] will prevail in the country until the DDR process is finished and we have a proper national army and national police."

Kunduz police chief, Matlab Baik, agreed. He said that the militias’ power would only be diminished if they’re brought into the national police and national army structure. "All these people should be included in DDR," Baik said.

Militias like the 6th, 7th and 8th Corps are part of the Afghan Militia Forces, but are not part of the newly emerging Afghan National Army. Though they technically fall under the control of the ministry of defence, they also are typically affiliated with particular political parties or factions.

The reality is that the units retain strong allegiances to individual commanders and the political factions that they are associated with.

The 6th and 7th corps, formerly headed by Daoud and Atta Mohammad respectively, are affiliated with the political faction Jamiat-e-Islami. Hamdard’s 8th corps is closely associated with the militarised faction Junbesh-e-Milli-ye-Islami, headed by presidential candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

According to the UN in Afghanistan, only operable heavy weapons will be collected during the pre-election period. Heavy weapons containment has already taken place in Kabul, Gardez, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad. The total number collected so far is about 1,390. It is estimated that more than half of those that have been surveyed have already been moved into containment sites.

“(This) should be carried out at any cost by the (time of the) elections,” said Azimi. "If the named people do not surrender their weapons by the deadline they will lose their pay and will be dismissed from the defence ministry structure and denounced as illegal.”

These statements, ironically, come at a time when the administrative groundwork has been laid for the creation of a new militia unit.

By October 7, a new military corps, 15th Corps, will be officially established with Division 1 from the 7th Corps - said to be Atta Mohammad’s favoured division - and Division 53 from the 8th Corps - the division most connected to Dostum.

“The structure for this new corps is approved by the government,” said Azimi, who explained that the 15th Corps will be in existence only until next June, when all its personnel will join DDR.

Saboor, in charge of 7th Corps since Atta Mohammad took over the governorship of Balkh, and Hamdard told IWPR they had agreed to the merger - even though their two corps have engaged in sporadic turf warfare in recent months.

The official leader of the new corps has not yet been chosen.

Saboor told IWPR he had been offered the position of heading the new corps but declined it “in order to keep good relations between the two corps”.

He said he had proposed the post be given to General Majid Rozy, who is deputy head of military affairs for Dostum’s political movement Junbesh. Rozy said that he will accept the post if the government asks him.

Saboor and Hamdard both told IWPR they were already going through the DDR process.

Saboor said that the 7th corps had already turned in 95 per cent of its heavy weapons. Hamdard said that the 8th corps had already got ride of its arsenal.

But soldiers from both the 7th and the 8th Corps have yet to hand over their light arms and start the decommissioning process.

Daoud, meanwhile, was expected to start disarming the 6th Corps’ heavy weapons in Kunduz this month according to Peter Babbington, acting national DDR chief.

Daoud was formerly a defence minister to national hero and Taleban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud during the factional wars in the north at the end of the 90s.

“This bodes well for the future stability of the country,” Babbington said in a statement. He called Daoud’s decision to hand over his heavy weapons a significant and major development in the heavy weapons containment process. In an interview with IWPR in July, Babbington had called Daoud “a reluctant participant” in the DDR process.

The fact that Daoud was able to promise to disarm the 6th Corps, despite technically no longer being in charge of that unit, indicates the authority he continues to wield, despite having accepted a post in the interior ministry.

Hamdard cautioned, however, that the central government would not be able to ensure security in the northern part of the country until all the militias there are complete disbanded.

"Because these corps have a tribal structure, the problem of weapons will prevail in the country while they exist," he said.

Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR reporter based in Mazar-e-Sharif.

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