WASHINGTON — Afghan officials see armed militias as the only practical short-term solution to dealing with growing violence in rural areas of the country, according to the Afghan ambassador to the United States.

“We don’t expect NATO soldiers to stand guard in front of every mosque,” said Said T. Jawad, who has served as ambassador since 2003. “But now, when terrorists come and kill the clergy in a village, or they burn down a mosque, there’s hardly anyone to respond to that.”

Jawad’s comments came during an informal meeting Thursday in Washington with the Afghan Policy Council, a think tank of business, charitable and government agencies focused on Afghan security and economic issues.

The ambassador admitted that allowing militias or other “community police units” to operate could undermine citizen’s faith in the competency of the new central government.

“But if these provinces fall to the Taliban, that would be worse,” he said.

“Right now, we have some very troubling districts with very few police. If the police are paid $40, $50 a month and are not fully equipped … they are not able to protect the people.”

Jawad said Afghan officials are working on ways to keep the local militias under the control of local law enforcement authorities, to ensure they are performing only security work and not creating more unrest.

He also echoed comments made by Afghan president Hamid Karzai lamenting the hundreds of Afghans killed so far in Operation Mountain Thrust, a military offensive which has spread more than 10,000 coalition troops across the southern half of the country.

Jawad said even though the military maneuvers are clearly needed to keep Taliban and al-Qaida forces from regrouping, not enough emphasis has been placed on “state building” activities.

“We have to show people in the countryside that there is a benefit to peace for them,” he said. “If they think this is just a military operation, they won’t oppose it, but they will say, ‘I’m not going to help them.’”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now