Local Afghan police fight the Taliban themselves

(CBS NEWS) KAYTAK, Afghanistan - In Afghanistan, the Taliban's spring offensive enters its second week Sunday, after claiming the lives of seven U.S. service members and eight Afghan police officers over the past four days.

U.S. troops are trying to cut back on that violence, both now and in the future, by training Afghan police.

Twenty-four American soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year, but in fact, that's down sharply from 2012. By the end of May last year, 98 had died.

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The drop is largely due to Afghan forces taking the lead in the fight against the Taliban, and one initiative in particular has American commanders sounding upbeat: the Afghan Local Police (ALP).

The force consists largely of village men who get uniforms, a little training, and a small salary to become a sort of armed neighborhood watch.

Also known as community police, the ALP was formed in August 2010 with the goal of protecting districts and villages across the country where the Afghan police and army have a limited presence. It was an American initiative, recently handed over to the Afghan Interior Ministry.

Currently, there are just more than 20,000 ALP officers trained up across 100 communities -- and due to its success, the U.S. is helping to engineer a rapid expansion of the program.

Their increasing profile has made ALP members more of a target; at least 180 members have been killed by militants during the past six moths, and there has been a five percent increase in Taliban attacks on the Afghan Local Police thus far this year.

Special Operations Major General Tony Thomas, who is working to expand the program with local Afghan officials, said the increased targeting of the ALP is proof of the program's success.

The Taliban "very much want to destroy this phenomenon because they realize it's where they used to enjoy all of their sanctuaries, where they used to do all their recruitment, and they can't do it anymore," said Maj. Thomas.

Special Operations Major General Tony Thomas talks to an Afghan man in his neighborhood.
Special Operations Major General Tony Thomas talks to an Afghan man in his neighborhood.
CBS News

Local knowledge is the key. In Kaytak village, south of Kandahar, an ALP lookout keeps an eye on who's coming and going, while other policemen patrol the fields.

They know exactly who has legitimate business here and who doesn't. And if someone is up to no good, the Afghan Army is based nearby -- and so are U.S. Special Forces.

With a cell phone mast newly installed just outside the American base, help in an emergency is just a phone call away.

These men are credited with bringing real stability to remote parts of southern Afghanistan for the first time in a decade.

The question is, can they continue to do it after the end of next year, when the American backup -- with its overwhelming firepower -- leaves Afghanistan for good?

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."