KABUL -- The Afghan National Army says there has been a dramatic increase in the number of recruits since it began a program that increases soldiers' pay and benefits, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.
During the first week of December some 2,659 recruits joined the Afghan Army, compared to just 831 in all of September.
General Sher Ahmad Karimi told RFE/RL that the dramatic surge in recruits is a result of a new recruitment program that increases salaries. He said an increase of about $45 in the monthly pay is the main motivation for new army personnel.
Karimi said recruits who are being deployed to remote areas and dangerous zones are also paid a per diem of about $1.50.
The Afghanistan government recently increased the monthly salary of recruits deployed to troubled Helmand Province from $180 to $240.
In comparison, Taliban pay is reported to be some $250-350 a month, the AP reported.
"During the past few years we have always considered ourselves successful in recruiting army personnel, but recently we have pushed the process with extra measures and details which we called the 'acceleration process,' which is aimed at bringing the number of soldiers in our national army to around 153,000 by the end of October 2010," Karimi said.
The Afghan National Army currently has about 105,000 active troops, and U.S. President Barack Obama has called for an expansion to nearly 260,000 troops in five years.
Karimi added that soldiers are provided with other benefits, including food, clothes, education, free health care, and places to pray.
"In terms of security, basically...the U.S. and other allies are not going to withdraw troops from Afghanistan [by summer 2011 as Obama has stated unless] our National Army and police forces are able to operate on their own,” Karimi said. “And that does not mean only establishing ground troops. We need to have a fully activated air force, war planes, sophisticated engineering and technology, and the heavy artillery that is necessary in order to conduct military operations."
Karimi said the Afghan army is still dependent on its allies for the required facilities and equipment, and that acquiring those things will take time.