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Afghan Official Praises Preparedness Of Military

U.S. Army and Afghan troops carry a wounded U.S. soldier to a medevac helicopter after he was injured by a roadside bomb in Kandahar Province on October 13.
U.S. Army and Afghan troops carry a wounded U.S. soldier to a medevac helicopter after he was injured by a roadside bomb in Kandahar Province on October 13.
KABUL -- An Afghan Defense Ministry official says the country's military is already capable of taking charge of counterinsurgency operations, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said in Kabul on October 20 that foreign troops could start withdrawing from Afghanistan "as early as tomorrow."

U.S. troops are scheduled to begin leaving Afghanistan by July 2011, a deadline set by U.S. President Barack Obama.

But Azimi said the transition from U.S.-led troops to the Afghan National Army (ANA) should be mutually coordinated.

He said the ANA's ability "has been developed to a level that could proceed with the security-transition phase as soon as tomorrow. At this point, it is very important to see how the whole [transition process] will develop. Fortunately, based on the agreement with our international partners, the transition [to Afghan military control] can start the moment our troops are ready to take over."

Azimi added that "we want this [transition] phase to start with relatively secure places and then to expand to rather hostile zones."

Led by the ANA, Afghan security forces along with the U.S.-led coalition forces are currently engaged in a major offensive against Taliban fighters in the southern province of Kandahar.

For the first time, ANA forces are fighting on the front lines and also commanding the operation's forces, which are backed up by international troops.

"Our troops are able to conduct surges [against insurgents] independently, wherever they want [in Kandahar]," Azimi said. "The ongoing encounter in Kandahar proves our troops' capability. [In Kandahar], our ANA forces outnumber international troops."

Azimi also stressed the "considerable amount of public support" the ANA received as being a key element behind the success in Kandahar, one of Afghanistan's most volatile provinces.

"We have been fortunate because the number of civilian causalities [during the operation in Kandahar] is not something to worry about," Azimi said. "We have prevented such deadly mistakes."

Praise For Peace Council

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai has praised peace efforts by the recently appointed 69-member High Peace Council. He said that as contacts were made with neighboring countries, the initiative to reconcile with the Taliban was moving forward and optimism on both sides was growing.

"Based on what we hear from the Taliban and our other brothers, many are optimistic about having peace," Karzai said. "We have good contacts with our neighbors, who approve of the process. Hopefully, in one or two years the security situation and stability in Afghanistan will be much better than what we have today."

Karzai's creation of the council earlier this month received a lot of publicity. Its main goal is to bring the Afghan government and Taliban leaders together for peace talks.

Success by the council is also seen as paving the way for the U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.