Wed, Jul 18, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Thousands of rebels have left Afghan battlefield: NATO

AFP, BRUSSELS

Nearly 5,000 former Afghan insurgents have given up their weapons and more are joining a reintegration program, but it has not dented the overall Taliban force, a NATO general said on Monday.

The number of former fighters in the Afghan peace and reintegration program has grown from about 4,000 late last year to 4,946 today, said Major General David Hook, who leads the NATO cell assisting the Afghan-led effort.

Another 600 are being vetted to determine whether they qualify to join the program, which began in October 2010 and offers a stipend of US$360 over three months to ease fighters out of the battlefield, Hook said.

“The figures continue to trend very gently up,” the British officer told reporters during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

The program has had great success in the north and west of the country, allowing Afghan security forces to focus on fighting in Taliban hotbeds elsewhere, he said.

“Has it made a dent in terms of a nationwide perspective? Probably not,” he said, refusing to provide estimates of the overall Taliban force.

The number of people joining the program grew 60 percent from November last year to March this compared with any other four-month period, he said.

In the east alone, the number jumped 300 percent.

“Is it having an effect across the whole of Afghanistan in what I would think of in military and strategic terms? No. Is it having an operational-level effect, yes it is,” Hook said.

“In the north and west, where integration has been its most successful, we now have latitude to have a discussion with the Afghans about the Afghans moving battalions down to Helmand [province],” the general added.

NATO forces are gradually handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces, with the goal of giving them the lead nationwide next year before foreign combat troops are withdrawn at the end of 2014.

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