GOSHTA, Afghanistan (AFP) - The Afghan Local Police, branded by some critics as an incompetent Taliban-linked militia, is one of the many security challenges facing the country as international troops withdraw.

Only founded in 2010, the ALP is tasked with community-level policing to suppress violence in some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and remote areas, and despite its many opponents it has had some success.

In Goshta district, two hours drive from the eastern city of Jalalabad and 40 kilometres from the Pakistan border, one unit of 200 ALP men has been in position for two months and has already been making its presence felt.

Its members, selected by local elders, were sent for just three weeks’ training by US special forces and then further instruction under the Afghan national police.

“This is the entry route from Pakistan, but now the Taliban are welcome to come,” Shinak, 40, a new member of the ALP, joked as he brandished his machinegun.

“I want to do the best for my community. I was chosen to serve by my village leaders because I don’t have a criminal record and because I don’t use drugs.”

The ALP is often accused of thuggery and operating outside the law, and its reputation was further damaged by an attack on December 24 when an officer shot dead five of his colleagues.

But US supervisors of the ALP say its 18,000 men nationwide provide practical, low-cost protection from the insurgents, and they dismiss suggestions that its ranks are half-hearted, criminals or Taliban sympathisers.

“The enemy has declared the ALP their number-one threat,” Colonel Don Bolduc, who is in charge of the training project for the US military, told AFP. “The army and police see them as an asset.

“People come with this preconceived idea that local defence forces are unruly, not accountable to the government and will be violent.

“But they are relevant, resilient, accountable and cost-effective. Those things weigh heavily on how the Afghan government will see the local police 10-15 years from now.”

Bolduc said a recent case in which four officers were jailed for rape in Kunduz province actually proved that legal standards were being enforced.