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Afghan Army To Be Fully Operational Within Five Years

U.S. troops on patrol in Jalalabad, Feb. 5 (epa) March 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan says its national army will be fully operational within four to five years.

Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said today the Afghan army will be in a position to assume increasing responsibility once it is fully functional, removing the need for a large foreign presence.

Speaking to journalists after meeting NATO chiefs in Brussels, Wardak said the national army was already taking on more domestic security tasks.

He conceded there has been a marked increase in terrorist activity in recent months, but argued that it is a response to the growing prowess of the Afghan army.

"Recently, there has been a rise in violence. The enemy has lost the capability to [counter] our forces in the field, so they are more resorting to terror tactics and going against softer targets," he said. "As a result of that, it looks like there is deterioration in the security situation, while I would say it is too early to reach that conclusion."

Wardak's comments came as NATO is preparing to expand its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan from 9,000 to 16,000 troops.

A wave of suicide bombings in recent months has killed dozens of people in the country as part of an intensified insurgency that has left more than 1,500 dead since the start of last year.

(with additional material from Reuters)

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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