Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US says it will take years to train Afghan army

QUALITY CONTROL The officer in charge of the US training operation said it would take at least three more years to complete at the rate of about 1,000 soldiers a month

AP , WASHINGTON

It will take at least three more years to finish training Afghanistan's planned 70,000-man army, the US general in charge of the effort said on Thursday. He did not challenge an Afghan assertion that the number may be less than half what's needed.

Major General Robert Durbin, who heads the operation to train Afghan soldiers and police, told a Pentagon press conference that about 30,000 soldiers are fully trained and equipped and that the force is growing by about 1,000 a month.

"So if you do the math you could figure out about how many months it would take us to get to the 70,000," Durbin said, meaning that 40 months would be needed to train the 40,000 more planned by the US-led coalition.

Asked why it would take so long to raise an army that small, he said: "Based on how we have put the program together, we feel that the 1,000 a month is appropriate to retain the quality."

When the force is at full strength it is hoped that it will be able to operate "with limited coalition support," Durbin said.

Durbin did not challenge the statement a day earlier by Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak that the country needs two or three times the planned 70,000. Wardak said on Wednesday in an interview in Kabul that the "minimum number we can survive on within this complex, strategic environment" is 150,000 to 200,000.

Asked about Wardak's comment, Durbin said the 70,000 was agreed to in writing by Afghanistan in consultation with the international community.

"The size of the Afghan national army will be determined by the government of Afghanistan in consultation with the international community," he said. "As time progresses, the government of Afghanistan, in consultation with the international community, may revisit that number."

Durbin said strides are being made toward training and equipping national security forces, including the start of a professional army officer corps and of a modern command center.

"Building an Afghan national army from scratch and reforming Afghan national police would be difficult during the best of times," he said. "Yet, the Afghan people ... are doing just that, while continuing to progress against a ruthless enemy."

More than 20 coalition soldiers have died since mid-May in the bloodiest spate of violence since the US-led invasion that toppled the hard-line government and scattered al-Qaeda terrorists in late 2001. In a bid to curb the violence, more than 10,000 coalition and Afghan soldiers are taking part in a massive anti-Taliban sweep across southern Afghanistan called Operation Mountain Thrust.

Afghan army troops were in the lead and foreign coalition forces in support on June 15 when the "decisive phase" of the operation began, Durbin said.

"The significance of this event cannot be overstated," he said.

It is the first large-scale operation in which Afghan soldiers have taken such a big role "not only in planning and executing but also as the highest percentage" of troops participating, he said.

As for the police force, Durbin said, 37,000 are trained and equipped, another 20,000 trained but not equipped and several thousand more awaiting training to make up the planned 62,000-man force.

As an example of things they lack, Durbin said they have only 2,000 of the 86,000 vehicles planned for the police.

Corruption is a particular problem among the force. Durbin said the coalition has worked repeatedly on reform of the senior army leadership and that Afghan officers are continuing the process of identifying people with leadership qualities and good character. With the police, he said, it is a bit more difficult.

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