By Sanjeev Miglani
KABUL (Reuters) - NATO is reviewing the activities of an irregular police force set up to bolster security mainly in the troubled north, the alliance said on Tuesday, following a call by the Afghan government that it be disbanded.
The row over the Critical Infrastructure Protection program (CIP) launched in areas where there are not enough regular security forces threatens to open a new rift with President Hamid Karzai who sees them as parallel structures that undermine his authority.
A spokesman of the Afghan interior ministry said that the CIP, made up of local militia, was operating outside the Afghan police structure, and people have complained in the provinces where the force was launched to protect reconstruction projects and join the fight against the Taliban.
"We have requested NATO that it be disbanded, our people are not happy about it. They only want national police forces that they can recognize," said Sediq Sediqqi.
Several armed groups have been set up in response to Afghanistan's downward security spiral, aiming to capitalize on a demands to protect local communities -- much like Iraq's Awakening Council that helped turn the tide of the Iraq war.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said the CIP program was under review and would continue to operate.
"ISAF has not been asked to terminate CIP from functioning/providing critical infrastructure protection while the review is underway," a spokeswoman for the ISAF's regional command north said in an email.
"The CIP program has produced a reduction in insurgent significant actions (IEDs, small arms fire attacks, etc) where CIP has been emplaced," she said, adding that the program was requested in writing by the Afghan provincial governors where they were deployed.
Human rights groups say that as NATO prepares to withdraw by the end of 2014 it is trying to build up Afghan national security forces as well as irregular units at top speed.
On Tuesday, 70 members of the team stood guard at the opening of a bridge built by a foreign run joint military-civilian team in Char Darah district of northern Kunduz province, a Reuters reporter said.
Besides Kunduz, the force operates in Faryab, Jawzjan, Sar-e- Pul and Laghman provinces, areas that Afghan national forces are not fully represented. The ISAF spokeswoman said CIP had 1544 members and that the ISAF had not issued any weapons.
The governor of northern Kunduz province said he was concerned about what the men will do if the local CIP unit was dismantled.
"Now that the government has decided to dismiss it, it has to provide them with jobs in the military field," Mohammad Anwar Jigdalik said.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Ed Lane)