Vetting these forces is one of the chief concerns for forces on the ground here. "We need to make sure we're employing the right people to provide security for the population," says the U.S. military official in Kabul.
And avoiding bolstering or creating local warlords with infusions of cash—which happened once before, early in the war here—will entail making sure that power isn't concentrated in any one group, says a senior U.S. military official who traveled with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on his recent trip to the region. He adds that the U.S. military has told local elders, "We're going to help you, but you have to agree among yourselves and empower certain leaders to work with those who want to work with you, in coordination with the national government so you're not creating some parallel structure."
While the groups will be paid by the Pentagon, the U.S. official in Kabul notes that their salaries "won't be close" to what Afghan soldiers or police earn and that, as in Iraq, they will not be given weapons. "They're generally already armed," adds the official traveling with Gates.
Despite the difficulties, the military has high hopes for the program. "It's a de facto way of reconciliation," says the U.S. military official in Kabul. That said, he notes, NATO will be closely monitoring the new program. "There were considerable challenges [with the SOI] in Iraq," adds the official recently traveling with Gates. "And there will be considerable challenges in Afghanistan."