Sun, Sep 25, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Afghan mission `not finished yet': US

AP , WASHINGTON

Afghanistan's army is not ready to take control of the country's south, and it's difficult to tell when they will be despite reported successes coalition forces are having against the insurgency there, the US commander in the south said Friday.

"The Afghan nation army is a work in progress," said Army Colonel Kevin Owens, who is leading the force in the southern sector. He said that while the Afghan army is motivated and courageous, the command and control systems, along with their maintenance and logistical operations still need improvement. And he could not put a timeline on when they will be ready.

Owens commented after Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said airstrikes are no longer effective and there is not as great a need for foreign military operations there. But President George W. Bush said Thursday that the 18,000 US troops serving in the country have not yet finished their mission.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Owens said there are about 800 Taliban insurgents left in remote sections of southern Afghanistan where they have been able to hide. And while he acknowledged there has been more violence in the region in recent months, he said it has been due to attacks by his forces.

"We have had more contact with the enemy, we've certainly destroyed more enemy combatants in the last six months, but again, it is on our terms," he said. "We have put them on their heels. I believe the enemy is reeling from our recent operations."

He said the ongoing operations and the recent successful Afghanistan elections have eroded the enemy's ability to launch coordinated attacks, and have lessened its contact with the Afghan population.

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