Afghan army growing rapidly: commander

Published November 12, 2008

CAMP EGGERS (Afghanistan), Nov 11: Afghanistan’s army is growing at record levels and now plans or leads nearly two-thirds of military operations, the commander of its US training programme said on Tuesday.

Recruitment had doubled this month to almost 4,000, propelling the drive to reach a target number of 134,000 soldiers by the end of 2011, Maj-Gen Robert Cone told reporters at the programme’s main base in central Kabul.

The Afghan National Army currently numbers about 68,000 men in the field and 11,000 in training, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan commanding general said.

Around 26,000 soldiers were trained in the year that ended in October, compared to about 7,500 in previous years, Cone said. The number for this year is expected to be 28,000.

“The Afghans want this very badly and our goal is to go as fast as we can and maintain quality for the Afghan army,” he said on the sidelines of a Veterans Day commemoration.

“About 62 per cent of planned operations are either led or exclusively Afghan operations,” he said, adding this was almost twice the number of last year.

The 3.5-billion-dollar project to build the Afghan Air Corps was also having success with new aircraft purchased and about 200 pilots available.

Afghanistan’s once-proud Soviet-trained air force was destroyed during the 1992-1996 civil war, followed by the 1996-2001 rule of the Taliban regime, as was the army.

“Today the Afghan Air Corps is flying 90 per cent of its requirements,” Cone said. “This last month the Air Corps flew over 9,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen to their duty positions and flew nearly 60,000kg of cargo.”

The air force has about 23 Mi17 helicopters and eight Antonov cargo planes. It had just bought 19 C-27A cargo airplanes and was looking to buy more helicopters, with a final number of 59 envisaged, Cone said.—AFP

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