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Afghan Minister Hails Security, Disarmament Progress --> 29 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak said on 28 April that deployment of Afghan National Army ground forces will be completed in 2006, Afghanistan Television reported.

Wardak was speaking at a military parade commemorating the 13th anniversary of the fall of the communist regime in Kabul.

The government in Kabul has articulated its desire to eliminate its dependence on international assistance as soon as possible, albeit with what it describes as "enduring arrangements" with the United States and other countries. It has also sought to integrate the country's various ethnic groups into the Afghan armed forces.

Lieutenant General David Barno, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, noted on 15 April that official Afghan armed forces now number 22,000. He added that "the reduction in the number of coalition forces [in Afghanistan] depends on how strong the Afghan National Army becomes."

Afghanistan has decided with respect to regional and international threats to "establish and strengthen long-term strategic relations with the international community," Wardak said, without adding any details.

Wardak also said the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process is 80 percent completed and will be finished in June.

Ninety-five percent of all heavy weapons have been collected, he added.

After initial setbacks, the DDR program began its pilot project in the northern Konduz Province in October 2003.

The DDR process is being applied only to officially recognized militia forces, leaving a multitude of armed groups that fall outside the process.

Since 1978, Afghanistan has served as a virtual storehouse for weaponry -- whether brought in by Soviet invaders, provided to Afghans to counter the Soviets, or offered by other countries in the region to client militias during Afghanistan's brutal civil war of the 1990s.