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Afghanistan plans dramatic increase in security

Some 100,000 personnel; Recruits to get pay raises

By Kathy Gannon
Associated Press / January 21, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government and its international partners agreed yesterday to increase significantly the country’s security forces and outlined plans to lure Taliban militants from the fight in a bid to turn the tide of the war.

A joint panel of officials from Afghanistan, the UN, and troop-contributing nations approved plans to train about 100,000 more security forces by the end of next year.

The decision was made ahead of a Jan. 28 conference in London aimed at boosting international support for Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban and complaints about runaway corruption in President Hamid Karzai’s government.

The London conference will endorse the decisions and solicit international funding for the programs, said Aleem Siddique, UN spokesman.

Britain’s ambassador to Kabul, Mark Sedwill, told reporters in London yesterday that the conference will probably set out a tentative timetable for handing over security to local forces and also discuss funding for a program to reintegrate Taliban and other militants who agree to put down their weapons.

Meanwhile, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board agreed to increase the size of the Afghan National Army from the current figure of about 97,000 to 171,600 by the end of next year, officials said. The Afghan National Police will be boosted from about 94,000 to 134,000.

The board set a long-term goal of expanding the Afghan security force to 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police within five years if conditions require. Officials said that figure might not be necessary if the US-led campaign against the Taliban succeeds in crippling the insurgency.

Afghanistan’s defense minister, Rahim Wardak, said he believed that the proposed 400,000-strong security force, including army and police, was the minimum requirement but that the country’s international partners were concerned over how to pay for such a large force and sustain it after the United States and its allies leave.

In an interview at his office surrounded by 20 foot concrete blast walls topped with barbed wire and defended by a dozen heavily armed men, Wardak said there is a lot of work ahead before his soldiers can take over countrywide security.

The Defense Ministry is now trying to reduce the desertion rate prompted by low pay and prolonged deployments in the deadliest arenas. The salary for new army recruits has been increased from $120 to $160, Wardak said. But those fighting in the deeply dangerous south and east of the country receive an additional $2 a day, he said.

“We’re slowly getting over the high desertions,’’ he said. Since the beginning of December, 209 of 15,000 military recruits have deserted - a drop from previous months, he said, although comparative figures were not immediately available.

The new incentives have also brought 2,038 deserters back to their posts, Wardak said.

Yet Gregory Smith, a NATO spokesman and US Navy rear admiral, said more needs to be done to keep the Afghan Army soldiers in the fight as well as to combat a troubling level of drug abuse in the Afghan military.

“What we’ve got to really reduce are the high levels of attrition, the need for retention, and problems with drug abuse,’’ he said.

President Obama’s administration believes the key to stability in Afghanistan is a strong national security force that can protect the country and allow US and other foreign troops to go home.

Obama has said he plans to begin withdrawing forces in July 2011 if conditions permit.