As America appears to be on its way out of Afghanistan, the fight for land, power, and dominance hangs in the balance. The Afghan Security Forces have been fighting the Taliban for years. Yet, in the shadows, another group has also been fighting the Taliban. That group is the public uprising forces.

The public uprising forces are a group of volunteers organized into militias throughout Afghanistan. According to an article written by TOLOnews, the group dates back to 2013, when people in the Andar district of the Ghazni Province began fighting back against the Taliban. Since then, 17 provinces have had uprising forces organize and fight. The last few years have seen a major uptick in the strength of the public uprising forces.

These fighters have the support of Mohammad Sarwar Danish, the Vice President of Afghanistan, according to TOLOnews.

In 2017, Danish said, “The Afghan government welcomes and supports the public uprising forces. We urge our people, especially the youth of every region not to just be witnesses but to cooperate with the national army and police forces and to stand with the public uprising forces.”

These forces often fight under the Afghan government in support of the National Defense and Security Forces. Naturally, the support that the uprising forces provide makes them major targets for the Taliban. The Taliban often attack the uprising forces to make an example and scare people from joining the Afghan Security Forces. Over the years, they have been subjected to horrific attacks and engaged in violent firefights with the Taliban.

The public uprising forces struggle for legitimacy and support from the Afghan government. According to their commanders, the government uses them when it needs them, but does not provide them the support and security they need on a daily basis. These militias also want their work to be legitimized and sanctioned by the government, giving them representation in the fight against the Taliban and the support of Afghanistan.

While the public uprising forces seem to be a force for good, there could be issues below the surface. Such a large group of armed individuals without a governing body or a system of accountability could cause anarchy. In some districts, the public uprising forces have exponentially grown in size to reach over a thousand men. The militia commanders and local government officials have said that such large groups need central control and organization. Some fear what could happen without the forces’ adequate management.

Furthermore, the public uprising forces may currently be fighting in the name of the Afghan government, but their agenda could change in the future. Given a weak central government, they could use their power to gain control and oppress the local people.

Four days ago, in the Qaisar district of the Faryab Province, a fight erupted between local police and public uprising members, resulting in the death of a police officer. Although often viewed as a part of the police force, there has been an increase of grievances from locals against the uprising forces.

The militias in Iraq provide a case study for what could happen in Afghanistan.

Iraqi militias have wielded their power against Iraqi civilians, killing hundreds, and instilling fear.

The Iraqi militias were raised to fight against ISIS, but now many have broken off and become private warfighting organizations, creating divides throughout the country. The lack of unity and government control has allowed Iran to penetrate these militias and gain control. The Iran-backed militias have become a danger to the people of Iraq, the region, and the United States.

If the Afghan government is not able to maintain control, the public uprising forces may be forced to defend themselves against the Taliban and other enemies. The forces could be vulnerable to exploitation by other countries. The division of districts and provinces and the fight for territory could become a flashpoint between the uprising forces.

Looking into the future, it’s hoped that these forces remain a loyal agent for the Afghan government.