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Afghan army to stand alone in 4 years - Defense Ministry

RIA Novosti

17:59 14/12/2009 KABUL, December 14 (RIA Novosti) - Afghanistan's army and security forces will be able to maintain security in the country within four years, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said on Monday.

Lieutenant General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said combat effectiveness of the Afghan military will increase in three stages. At the first stage, which is currently underway, the national army operates together with foreign military forces.

At the second stage, which will take at least two years, the Afghan army will be able to assure security in areas, where militants will have been mopped up by foreign contingents.

In four years, Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, the Afghan military would be able to plan, develop and carry out military operations without any foreign assistance.

Currently, the Afghan National Army plans and develops about 60% of military operations on its own, Zahir Azimi said, adding the figure will rise to 80% in the near future.

At the same time, he said, militants operating in the country are becoming weaker.

"In recent times, the insurgents have lost about 25% of their combat potential, while the national army is strengthening it," he said.

The Afghan National Army currently has some 80,000 servicemen. Experts say it will be able to operate on its own when the number of troops rises to 400,000.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months, with the radical Islamic Taliban group, which was toppled in a 2001 U.S.-led campaign, staging regular attacks on provincial government officials, police and civilians and planting roadside bombs to target Afghan, U.S. and NATO troops.

In early December, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised address to the nation that the United States would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first part of 2010 to defeat the Taliban and establish law and order. However, the president said, the U.S. would start withdrawing its troops in 18 months.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate U.S.-led coalition, involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, have a total of 112,000 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. has by far the largest force, with some 68,000 troops.

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