Petraeus's first act is to establish militias to fight the Taliban

General persuades a reluctant President Karzai to sign up to tactics imported from Iraq

Armed militias of the type used to fight the insurgency in Iraq are to be introduced to Afghanistan in what is seen as a controversial part of the new strategy of General David Petraeus to counter the tide of Taliban attacks.

The setting up of the groups – who will provide up to 10,000 fighters – is the first major initiative by General Petraeus after taking over command of Western forces in the Afghan campaign following the sacking of his fellow American, General Stanley McChrystal.

The move, has, however, faced resistance from Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who fears that the groups would become power bases for regional strongmen. His spokesman, Waheed Omar, said: "We don't want a short-term objective to endanger a long-term objective for security."

But General Petraeus, who used similar tactics in organising the so-called Sunni Awakening groups during the "surge" in Iraq, holds that local defence forces are vital in rural areas. They will help counter the Taliban while members of Afghan army and police forces are trained, as the chorus of Western politicians clamouring for a timeline for their forces to be withdrawn grows.

According to US sources, General Petraeus took personal charge of the intensive negotiations regarding the establishment of the militias. After 12 days of wrangling, he has managed to persuade the Afghan leader to accept his plan – passing a crucial first test in his relations with Mr Karzai after what has been a turbulent period, with the departure of General McChrystal and mounting Nato casualties.

More than 100 foreign troops have been killed in the past month, and another seven Americans were killed in attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday in southern Afghanistan.

However, the plan to arm Afghans, whose loyalties may be uncertain, is proving controversial. There was a startling reminder of the dangers this week, when a member of the Afghan army killed three British soldiers at Patrol Base Three in Nahr-e-Saraj. Eight months earlier, five British soldiers were shot down by an Afghan policeman in another part of Helmand.

Previous attempts to form irregular forces in Afghanistan have proved problematic, with government-licensed fighters accused of extorting money and favours from local populations.

Colonel Sheren Shah Kobadi, a senior Afghan army officer in Helmand, who would have to work alongside the militias, said yesterday: "My first reaction is that I am against it. This has to be handled very carefully, it has been tried before and has led to trouble. What we don't want are tribes turning on each other because some have government money and weapons and others haven't."

In an attempt to assuage Mr Karzai's concerns, the new apparatus will be formally put under the control of the Afghan interior ministry. "The size, salary and the period for which it will be required will be prepared by the interior ministry," said Hamid Elmi, another government spokesman. But with the ministry lacking the resources or the expertise to oversee such a project, it is expected that Nato's International Security Assistance Force will provide much of the training and funding.

Senior Nato officers have also expressed concerns about private armies already in existence – run, among others, by Mr Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, in Kandahar, the southern birthplace of the Taliban where a US-led military operation is due to take place later this year.

The militias are to be deployed in less inhabited areas, which have seen a drawdown of Western forces in accordance with General McChrystal's decision to concentrate on more populated centres. The groups are expected to be recruited from local communities, with liaison taking place at provincial level.

Taliban insurgents have repeatedly struck at militia groups formed to oppose them, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A suicide bombing aimed at such a group in Kandahar last month killed 40 people, while over a hundred died in another suicide attack at a similar target in Pakistan earlier this week.

Money provided by Nato forces to local leaders in southern Afghanistan to form anti-Taliban bands has also led in the past to friction, with complaints from the tribes that did not receive the subsidies. There were also claims that Western-sanctioned groups had used their power to intimidate and dominate.

But US officials insist that the new groups would be far better organised and managed. "These would be government-formed, government-paid, government-uniformed local police units who would keep any eye out for bad guys – in their neighbourhoods, in their communities – and who would, in turn, work with the Afghan police forces and the Afghan Army to keep them out of their towns," said Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman. "This is a temporary solution to a very real, near-term problem."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Supply Chain Manager

Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's most progressive and innova...

Senior .NET Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This exciting c...

Business Analyst - Horsham - Competitive Salary

Negotiable: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Business Analyst - Horsham, West Su...

Infrastructure Engineer

£28000 - £34000 per annum + excellent bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: In...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor