Afghan army to grow to 100,000 by 2009 end

January 5th, 2009 - 6:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Kabul, Jan 5 (DPA) The Afghan national army was to grow to more than 100,000 troops by the end of this year, a spokesman said Monday.The troops are to be trained by US-led international forces, as NATO commanders in Afghanistan demand additional soldiers to effectively combat the resurgent Taliban militants.

So far a total of 85,000 army soldiers, drawn from Afghanistan’s various ethnic groups, have been trained by military officers from the US, France and Britain since the start of the programme in 2002.

“We will have up to 30,000 new soldiers, trained by coalition military partners in the course of 2009,” said General Zahir Azimi, chief spokesman of the Afghan defence ministry.

“With the new recruits Afghanistan will have more than 100,000 soldiers towards the end of the year,” he said, adding that the forces would also be equipped with modern military gear donated by the allied forces, mostly by the US government.

In 2008, Afghanistan experienced the worst insurgency since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001. The Taliban-led militants, who grew in recent years in numbers and strength, extended their writ to larger swathes of the country and penetrated districts adjacent to the capital Kabul.

With more than 290 foreign soldiers killed, 2008 was also the deadliest year for the nearly 70,000 international troops from 42 nations deployed in Afghanistan.

Following this difficult year, the commander for NATO-led forces in the country, US General David McKiernan, asked for additional troops to contain the insurgency.

The US government has announced to nearly double its troop presence in the country by sending up to 30,000 extra soldiers, while other NATO members also hinted to increase their troop presence in the country.

“With no doubt we will face fierce fighting in 2009 and in terms of severity of violence, it will not be different from 2008,” Azimi said. “But what makes this year different is our superiority in having more Afghan and international forces to fight the militants.”

Although the international community agreed to expand the Afghan army from its initial projected 70,000 soldiers to 132,000, Afghan and foreign military experts believe it may take up to a decade before Afghan units are capable of carrying out independent operations.

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