By Donna Miles
Nov. 21, 2006 – Afghanistan's security forces are making steady progress toward the goal of being able to defend the Afghan people, but their government, with U.S. and coalition support, hopes to accelerate that process, Afghanistan's defense minister told Pentagon reporters today. Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who traveled here with Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, said Afghanistan wants to move ahead of the timetable established through the Afghanistan Compact.
That compact, agreed to by Afghanistan, the United Nations and the international community, set a goal for building the Afghan National Army to 70,000 by late 2010 or early 2011.
Wardak said he'd like to move that goal up to about October 2008. He pointed to concrete examples of success he said prove that goal is within reach, with international support:
The Afghan National Army continues to grow professionally, demonstrating "great courage and fighting skill alongside U.S. and international forces," Wardak said. He credits experiences working alongside U.S. and international forces during operations Mountain Lion, Mountain Thrust, Medusa, Mountain Fury and most recently, Eagle, with boosting their capabilities and confidence.
New training programs are helping develop a new generation of leaders and improve professionalism among Afghan troops.
Plans being discussed to boost the Afghan National Army's capability will provide its members enhanced protection, mobility and firepower. These capabilities will make Afghan troops more effective in working with international forces and able to take the lead on physical security faster, Wardak said.
The Afghan military is redoubling its efforts to recruit and retain troops, improve their training and professionalism, and eliminate corruption and misconduct.
As promising as these developments are, Wardak said, speeding them up will make Afghanistan less dependent on international support for its internal security and a bigger contributor to the war on terror.
He expressed hope that NATO will "take a more effective role in equipping and training the Afghan national forces."
"By accelerating and strengthening Afghan national security forces, the Afghan National Army will not only be able to partner effectively with (International Security Assistance Force) forces," he said. "It will be able to gradually conduct independent operations with less support from international forces."
This will free ISAF forces to focus more on training and mentoring Afghan troops so they can reach the point where they no longer need a large international presence on the ground, Wardak said.
He noted the increase in violence in the south since last spring and the coalition and ISAF forces' success in foiling the terrorists' attempts and inflicting heavy casualties on them. "However, the number of incidents and the geography of the country stretched us, and we need to ensure that we are prepared for further offenses," he said.
Ultimately, Wardak said, he wants to see Afghanistan's security forces able to do more than simply defend their own country.
"Once we are well-trained and well-equipped, we will be able to pay some of our debt to the international community by participating in peacekeeping operations," and other shared objectives and by serving as "a permanent part of the war against terrorism," he said.
Article Sponsored by Air Force Gifts and Police Officer turned law enforcement writer.