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1st Battalion of Afghan National Army graduates

by Sgt. Don Dees
Army News Service

KABUL, Afghanistan (Army News Service, July 25, 2002) - About 300 Afghan soldiers graduated July 23 from 10 weeks of training in a ceremony attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Minister of Defense Mohammed Fahim.

U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers from 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C., provided the instruction to this week's graduates of the Kabul Military Training Center.

The battalion moved to its new post at the Kabul Presidential Palace following the ceremony.

"They will be stationed in Kabul, where they can be deployed rapidly to places of need," said an interpreter for Brig. Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Asifi, the center's garrison commander.

A second battalion of nearly 320 trainees, under instruction by French soldiers, has completed nearly seven weeks of training. A third battalion of approximately 330 soldiers begins training under U.S. instructors July 27.

"These soldiers understand that this is the last, best chance they have at a better future for their children," said Lt. Col. Kevin McDonnell, commander of 1st Bn., 3rd SFG, during a meeting with reporters on July 22.

The training program and the formation of a national army in Afghanistan is the cornerstone of success for the Afghan government, McDonnell said.

The training program calls for U.S. forces to train up to 18 battalions of infantry soldiers to form the core of the Afghan National Army.

Trainees receive instruction in basic rifle marksmanship on AK-47 assault rifles donated by Romania, which will remain at the training center. Heavy weapons include 82mm mortars, 75mm recoilless rifles and PKM machine guns.

Equipment shortages were among the challenges to training the recruits, said Maj. Gary, a Special Forces officer responsible for the program, in a discussion with U.S. State Department personnel.

"We are trying to get what we call a school set for use here," said Gary, who for security reasons is only identified by his rank and first name.

Some weapons were recovered from caches throughout the country, but not all were suitable for training.

"You can't give a team a mortar tube with cracks in it, eventually it will blow up and kill someone," McDonnell said to reporters at the center on Sunday.

Many nations have offered donations for the training program, said McDonnell. U.S. officials are arranging for the transfer of equipment.

(Editor's note: Sgt. Don Dees is with the 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

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