KABUL, Afghanistan -- The few hundred people of Kala Khel, a village in southern Afghanistan, on Thursday got some of the best news they had heard all year: the entire Afghan Local Police unit posted to the hamlet had disappeared the night before, apparently betrayed by two of their own and abducted by the Taliban.
The police, villagers said, had been beating people and stealing from them nearly every day since they arrived five months ago, and few in Kala Khel seemed sorry to see them gone. "People are happy they have been kidnapped," said Mahmadullah, a villager who uses a single name.
The abduction, and the villagers' apparent indifference to the fate of the men, is another stormy chapter for the Afghan Local Police. The militia force has found itself the target of frequent Taliban attacks, as well as criticism from human rights advocates and ordinary Afghans, who say some of the militias are made up of nothing more than common criminals, village toughs and sometimes even Taliban sympathizers.
The American-led military coalition began raising the militias three years ago to protect remote villages and, it was hoped, give Afghans a stake in fighting the Taliban. In some areas, the militias have indeed given the fight a local imprimatur, persuading villagers to stop aiding the insurgents and start helping Afghan and coalition forces.
Elsewhere, though, the local police have earned a thuggish reputation. That appears to have been the case in Kala Khel, where the local 14-man unit was sent to protect a stretch of unpaved road that bisects the village, in Zabul Province.
The officers arrived five months ago and quickly began to take what they wanted, bloodying anyone who got in their way, villagers said. "They were not good -- they are illiterate and morally corrupt people," said Hajji Asham, one of a handful of Kala Khel residents reached by phone on Thursday.
The abuse worsened after the Taliban began attacking the post, apparently using the village as a staging ground and for cover.
Villagers said no one in Kala Khel aided the Taliban. But the local police, perhaps not without reason, appear to believe villagers did support the insurgents.
"Anytime they were attacked from anywhere within the village, they would go there and beat people and confiscate their belongings, especially motorcycles," Mahmadullah said.
The latest beating was meted out on Wednesday, he said. The victim was a farmer whose tractor accidentally collided with a motorcycle ridden by a local policeman. After being beaten, Mahmadullah said, the farmer was fined $30, a vast sum for most Afghans.
One of the problems seems to have been that the local police unit was made up of people from different areas of Zabul and other provinces. In general, the most successful local police units have often been drawn directly from the villages they patrol.
Afghan officials said that they were investigating, and that what exactly happened had not yet been determined.
Villagers said two policemen spiked the food of their 12 colleagues with crushed sleeping pills. The Taliban then came in and took away the near-comatose men along with a pair of police pickup trucks and all the weapons in the post. The sleeping-pill ploy is often cited by Afghans in cases of infiltration or betrayal, though hard evidence backing it up is rarely produced.
The Taliban, for their part, claimed responsibility for the abduction, which they said was aided by two infiltrators.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said the original plan was to kill the policemen outright. But "the cowards did not resist," he said, so the Taliban "blindfolded them and led them away to a safe location."
He said the men would be tried under Islamic law and then the Taliban would "punish them." He did not elaborate.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.