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By Farzad Lameh
KABUL – After achieving its target strength of 134,000 Afghan troops two months ahead of its October deadline, the Afghan defence ministry has decided to increase the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to 171,600 troops by late next year.
The previous deadline for that goal was 2012.
“One of the best ways to ensure security and replace the international troops in the country is to transfer the responsibilities to Afghan forces; therefore, we reached to an agreement with our allies to support the Afghan army and raise its number to 171,600 by late next year,” Afghan Ministry of Defence spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi told Central Asia Online.
Less than six months ago, ANA strength stood at about 107,000. President Hamid Karzai told the international conference on Afghanistan in Kabul July 20 that his country’s security forces will take responsibility by 2014 in order for donor countries to help the army stand on its own.
“Based on our negotiations with our backer countries, hopefully Afghan security forces will be able to take the responsibility all over the country in the next three years, but it doesn’t mean that the international troops will leave Afghanistan fully," Azimi added. "We have some strategic agreements calling for some of them to stay here.”
The Afghan government wants to accelerate its army rebuilding as much as possible so that the army can take responsibility for security and lead operations, the defence ministry said.
Afghan command of military operations would significantly reduce civilian casualties, most Afghans say.
“Afghans know how to deal with Afghans, and this will help the Afghan government and international community on attaining peace and stabilisation rapidly,” an Afghan military officer, Sayed Wasim Hashmi, told Central Asia Online.
The military, though, would like to refurbish its inventories. Troops must contend with old or simply absent weapons and other equipment.
"We must not focus only on the number (of troops)," Gen. Abdul Wahed Taqat, defence analyst, told Central Asia Online. "We need to take care of their capacity and equip them properly."
Last week, Karzai ordered the national and international forces to dissolve private security companies and transfer their duties to the Afghan police and army.
“We would appreciate the replacement of private security companies by our own forces, and we are sure this could be an effective step for ensuring stability in Afghanistan,” Azimi said.