KABUL, Sept 12, 2011 (AFP) - An Afghan police force funded and supported by the United States is getting away with serious abuses including rape and murder, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Monday.
The findings ignite fresh questions about the Western exit strategy from Afghanistan and about handing full control of security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, when all foreign combat troops are due to have left.
The 7,000-strong Afghan Local Police (ALP), set up last year and touted as central to the security handover, arms residents protecting their communities in areas where the Afghan army and regular police have only limited reach.
They do not have law enforcement powers.
HRW found evidence of ALP abuses including killings, rapes and arbitrary detentions in three provinces -- Baghlan, Herat and Uruzgan -- out of seven where it conducted interviews.
It said such cases raised "serious concerns" about ALP vetting, recruitment and oversight and urged improvements including the establishment of a complaints body to deal with problems.
"Pressure to reduce international troop levels should not be at the expense of the rights of Afghans," said HRW's Asia director Brad Adams.
"Poor governance, corruption, human rights abuses and impunity for government-affiliated forces all are drivers of the insurgency and these issues need to be addressed if true stability is to come to Afghanistan."
General David Petraeus, former commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, in March called the ALP "arguably the most critical element in our effort to help Afghanistan develop the capability to secure itself".
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-Colonel Jimmie Cummings, said that it would work with the Afghan government to probe the report's claims.
"The ALP programme is a critical component to bringing governance and security to the Afghan people at the local level," he said.
"Where relevant, we will endeavour to improve this programme and work diligently to correct these observations."
In May, an Oxfam report highlighted growing rights abuses by Afghan national police and troops including killings and child sex abuse.
Afghanistan's army and police have grown quickly to over 300,000 and received billions of dollars of funding from the US in a bid to build them up ahead of the foreign combat force withdrawal in 2014.