Sunday, February 17, 2008

Afghanistan likens itself to US Mexican border woes

Need personnel, modern equipment, neighbours’ help

More than seven years since the ouster of the Taliban, Afghanistan is suffering its worst spell of violence in recent years with hundreds of foreign troops and thousands of civilians killed in what is termed a resurgence of the Taliban.

As the population reels under severe weather conditions, economic hardships and the ever-present threat of terrorist attacks, there is an urgent need to build and supplement Afghan defence forces.

Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi on February14 reiterated the need for a stronger and well-equipped Afghan defence system arguing that it’s even cheaper to sustain than the foreign troops in the country.

Addressing Brussels-based journalists through a satellite link, General Azimi said, “Afghan National Army is a confident defensive institution with more than 60,000 personnel who have been able to get the confidence of international community and people of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Army has led some important operations such as Maiwand, operation Khybar and recently the operation in Musa Qala.” Advocating that increasing the size of the Afghan National Army is much cheaper than paying for thousands of NATO and US troops, currently deployed in Afghanistan General said, “From an economical point of view, expenses of Afghanistan Army is much lower. It means expenses of one foreign soldier could be the equivalent for 60 to 100 Afghan National Army soldiers.”

Outlining the three main challenges facing the army today, the General said, “First, the number of Afghan National Army which is agreed for 86,000 troops should be increased in case of necessity.

Second: Lack of heavy weapons like tanks which can increase the morale of troops.

Third: Lack of airpower which can perform logistic, transport, air strikes and reconnaissance activity.”

On the question of recruitment of youth in the national army vis-a-vis the terrorist organisations like the Taliban, General Azimi said, “I can tell you that Afghan youth are interested to be in Afghanistan Army and economical aspect of this army is not important for our youth.”

“The thing which is important for them is that they are interested to defend their country. They are interested to defend democracy and they are interested to defend their national values. For instance, in March 2007 it was decided to increase the number of National Army by two times by the end of 2007. During the eight months we have been able to complete the number of our Afghan National Army. It means that we have been able to attract Afghan youth to Afghan National Army.”

On the subject of the present winter lull in the terrorist activities and projected situation in upcoming Spring, General said, “We don’t expect that upcoming spring or the spring of 2008 to be harder than the spring of 2007 because when we started spring of 2007, we had around 30,000 troops ... we didn’t have advanced equipment in the beginning of 2007.”

“But now by the beginning of 2008 or by the beginning of the spring of 2008, we will have around 70,000 troops, we will have advanced equipment; we will have M16 weapons, we will have M4... we don’t expect that this spring will be harder and we are not concerned at all about upcoming spring.”

Commenting on the urgent needs to monitor the Afghan border, General said, “I think Afghanistan’s border needs four important points. First of all, we need a strong border force for our border. For example, we have more than 5,600-kilometre border with different countries and the number which is determined for Afghan National Border Police is just 12,000. So 6,000 or 7,000 of them could be busy in headquarter services. We will just have 5,000 or 6,000 troops. So they won’t be able to protect all the borders because there is more than 5,600 kilometres.”

“The second thing is about technology. We should have advanced technology in order to monitor our border areas. So we need night-glasses. We need the equipment that could be used by our border police in order to monitor it.”

“The third point is the collaboration of people. Potentially, people are ready to help government in order to monitor the border.”

“The fourth point or element is the honest collaboration between two countries. So the two countries, those of the border between each other, they should honestly collaborate or co-operate with each other in order to make sure the security or the control of the border.”

Asked to comment on the question of whether Afghanistan had any plans to close the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, General Azimi said, “From a geographical point of view, there are a lot of terrain which are very difficult to pass or it means Afghanistan a mountainous country.”

Pointing to inability of even the US to close borders, the Afghan General said, “The complete closing of the border is impossible because when we see to the United States, United States is a powerful country, even they cannot shut or they cannot close their border with Mexico.”

The General expressed optimism, saying, “Yesterday Afghanistan was a centre of terrorism that was threatening the world. Today it is the centre of struggle against terrorism with having elected government, parliament, constitution, press freedom and more than six million of our children are going to school and women are struggling beside the men.”

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