Afghan Militia Demobilization Hits High Note
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2004 The demobilization, disarmament and reintegration program in Afghanistan is moving into high gear, said officials in Kabul.
In the past two weeks almost 2,000 members of Afghan militia groups turned in their weapons and entered the program, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan spokesman Army Maj. Scott Nelson said today in a press conference.
The program, sponsored by Japan, is a lynchpin in creating a peaceful and stable country. Thousands of Afghans are members of local militias. It is one of the most heavily armed nations in the world, said Pentagon officials. After almost three decades of war in the nation, most of these men know no other business but soldiering.
"All males carry AK-47s," said a Pentagon official. "We're trying to get the major weapons off the streets."
And they have been successful. It started in December with six pilot programs. To date, some 16,700 men have participated in the program.
But it is not just the weapons that are important. Getting the men jobs that can take the place of the salaries they received as militiamen is key also. "A part of this is training these men and they are mostly men," said the Pentagon official.
The program trains militiamen in skills that are needed in a new, peaceful Afghanistan. Some are settled as farmers and given instruction, seeds and equipment. Others learn trades building trades and car mechanics are in short supply. Still others enlist in the Afghan National Army or go into the demining program. To date, 13,200 men have been "reintegrated" into civilian life that is, completed the program.
It is hard to know how large the program will be, said a Pentagon official. "At one point, we thought there were about 100,000 militiamen in the country," he said. "We just don't know."
Officials expect the program to grow, especially in the western province of Heart. Ishmail Khan, who reportedly had one of the largest militias in the country, is no longer the governor of the province. The program starts there today. The Afghan army now has a creditable presence in that region, and officials expect a large turnout of former militiamen in the coming days.