Afghan militias and some units of a U.S.-backed local police force have been committing abuses, including stealing from homes during raids and beating residents, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
The New York-based rights group called on the Afghan government and the American military to take steps to ensure that irregular forces are disbanded and security forces made accountable.
In a 102-page report, the group found that some village-level fighting forces which the U.S. is fostering in hopes of countering the Taliban insurgency have been implicated in abuses. The Afghan Local Police was set up a year ago to help provide security in some places until enough Afghan army and national police forces are recruited to take over security when foreign combat forces leave at the end of 2014.
The U.S.-led coalition, also known as ISAF, said it would review the report.
"This report will be carefully evaluated to take necessary steps. ISAF welcomes fair criticism and advice," said ISAF spokesman German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson. He had no further comment, but ISAF tweeted without elaboration that parts of the report were outdated and "incorrect."
The Afghan Local Police is recruited locally after its members are vetted by local tribal elders and receive three weeks of training. The units, once formed, report to the local police chief. Human Rights Watch said there were about 7,000 people in the force with a target of 30,000.
"Afghan and U.S. officials told Human Rights Watch that the ALP has improved security in some areas. In some communities, local residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch welcomed the new force and cited improvements in security. But other residents said the new police had not been properly vetted, citing criminal and insurgent elements being absorbed into the force. Many complained that the ALP, like other irregular armed groups, is not held accountable when implicated in abuses," the report said.
The rights group said it had already documented several serious abuses by the force's members, including an incident in western Herat province where an ALP unit "raided several houses, stealing belongings, beating residents and illegally detaining six men."
HRW said another concern were irregular militias, some supported by the government, that were not being held accountable.
"The Afghan government has responded to the insurgency by reactivating militias that threaten the lives of ordinary Afghans," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Kabul and Washington need to make a clean break from supporting abusive and destabilizing militias to have any hope of a viable, long-term security strategy."
The ALP has also stirred worries it will legitimize existing private militias, or create new ones. Warlord-led militias ravaged Afghanistan in the 1990s, opening the way for the Taliban takeover. The Taliban were driven out of power by the U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago.
HRW called on NATO and the government to "avoid the rush to set up new units of the ALP around the country without proper vetting, oversight, and accountability mechanisms, as has occurred with some units."
It was the second international report outlining alleged abuses by Afghan forces that NATO has promised to investigate.
A pending and as yet unpublished U.N. report alleges that prisoners at some Afghan detention facilities have been beaten and, in some cases, given electric shocks. The report is expected this week, although some details have been leaked to the media.
As a result, NATO suspended detainee transfers to a number of questionable facilities until it can verify if the allegations are true. The Afghan government last week rejected the allegations contained in the report. They described them as politically motivated and aimed at slowing down the transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan government.
Afghanistan is gradually taking over responsibility for the country's security from the U.S.-led military coalition as foreign forces aim to withdraw all their combat troops by the end of 2014.