CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's army is growing at record levels and now plans or leads nearly two-thirds of military operations, the commander of its US training program said Tuesday.
Recruitment had doubled this month to almost 4,000, propelling the drive to reach a target number of 134,000 soldiers by the end of 2011, Major Gen. Robert Cone told reporters at the program's main base in central Kabul.
The Afghan National Army currently numbers about 68,000 men in the field and 11,000 in training, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan commanding general said.
Around 26,000 soldiers were trained in the year that ended in October, compared to around 7-8,000 in previous years, Cone said.
"So last year was a record year," he said. The number for this year is expected to be 28,000.
"The Afghans want this very badly and our goal is to go as fast as we can and maintain quality for the Afghan army," he said on the sidelines of a Veterans Day commemoration.
"About 62 percent of planned operations are either led or exclusively Afghan operations," he said, adding this was almost twice the number of last year.
The 3.5-billion-dollar project to build the Afghan Air Corps was also having success with new aircraft purchased and about 200 pilots available.
Afghanistan's once-proud Soviet-trained air force was destroyed during the 1992-1996 civil war, followed by the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, as was its army.
"Today the Afghan Air Corps is flying 90 percent of its requirements," Cone said.
"This last month the Air Corps flew over 9,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen to their duty positions and flew nearly 132,000 pounds of cargo."
The air force has about 23 Mi17 helicopters and eight Antonov cargo planes.
It had just bought 19 C-27A cargo airplanes and was looking to buy more helicopters, with a final number of 59 envisaged, Cone said.
But the air force would take years to complete. "We are about 20 percent of the way to where we want to be," the general said.
The United States led the invasion that ousted the Taliban in late 2001. It is the main contributor to international efforts to defeat a growing Taliban-led insurgency and train up the Afghan armed forces.
Besides working with the military, the command is training the police force which now numbers 76,000 of a project 82,000.
A key program launched late last month aimed to train about 4,200 police along the eastern border across which militants from radical Islamic camps in Pakistan enter the battle in Afghanistan, Cone said.
"We know that some of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan for policemen are on the border," Cone said.
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse