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Afghanistan: No Major Relief For NATO Before 2009

Afghan National Army soldiers take part in military exercises near Kabul (file) (epa) The chief of planning for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has warned that those troops cannot expect significant relief from Afghan security forces for at least a year and a half. French Brigadier General Vincent LaFontaine said the Afghan National Army is currently at less than half its headline goal of 70,000 well-trained men, but could reach that goal by early 2009. He also warned that international troops in Afghanistan remain "underresourced," hindering the stabilization effort.

BRUSSELS, September 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- With the ISAF forces badly stretched in Afghanistan, Western governments are increasingly looking toward the Afghan National Army and its sister security services to assume a greater share of the burden.

But that could apparently take years, even under the best of scenarios.

Speaking via a video-link from Kabul, Brigadier General LaFontaine told a small group of journalists in Brussels today that Afghanistan's National Army won't be able to start securing that country's provinces much before the end of the decade.

"According to the level of capabilities of [the] ANA, it could not be possible [on] a large scale before 2009-10," LaFontaine said.

LaFontaine said the ANA, currently comprising fewer than 35,000 men, could reach the stated goal of 70,000 men "in quality and quantity" by early 2009.

He noted that "a lot of work" remains to be done to turn the Afghan security forces into a "really efficient" instrument.

'Lack Of Resources'

ISAF currently operates around 30 Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams to train ANA units on the job. NATO sources estimate about a 100 are needed. This will test the political resolve of ISAF governments, a number of whom are under intense domestic pressure to curtail or terminate their operations in Afghanistan.

LaFontaine lists the teams as one of a number of ISAF's key shortfalls at the moment.

He said ISAF is "underresourced," noting that shortfalls mean stabilizing Afghanistan is taking longer than expected.

"Because we are underresourced, it will take more time than we initially hoped," he said. "But the solution is of course to develop and give the responsibility to the Afghan authorities in different [areas] but also in [the] security [field] with the ANA and [Afghan National Police]."

LaFontaine said that apart from the mentoring teams, ISAF needs more helicopters, maneuverable battalions to hold the ground recovered from insurgents, and equipment to counter attacks by improvised explosive devices. While IEDs are currently ISAF's main threat in Afghanistan, LaFontaine acknowledged fears that the increasing income from the drug trade could allow insurgents to purchase more sophisticated weaponry. Western officers are particularly worried about the prospect of the insurgents acquiring surface-to-air missiles.

LaFontaine said that with its current troop levels at 40,000 men, ISAF cannot be expected to root out the insurgency and that the main objective of the international military presence is to create the conditions for a political settlement among Afghanistan's many factions.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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