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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 23:22 GMT
Afghanistan looks to form new army
Northern Alliance soldier
The Northern Alliance remains a major force
Mike Wooldridge

Afghanistan's defence ministry says it has begun moves to form the nucleus of its new national army, which could be some 200,000 strong.

Each of the country's 33 provinces has been instructed to choose 200 men in the first phase of establishing the army.

Security remains a major concern, as the new government seeks to strengthen its own grip on the country.

Dutch peacekeeper in Kabul
An international peacekeeping force is patrolling Kabul
And it has one of the issues under discussion at the donors' conference, currently taking place in Japan.

The proposed size of the new army may raise eyebrows, but the defence ministry says at least 200,000 soldiers are needed for an emergency period, to maintain security and to disarm several hundred thousand others, estimated to be carrying weapons.

In the longer term, Afghanistan is apparently planning for a professional army that would be smaller than this, a figure of 60,000 or 700,000 is being mooted.

The idea of recruiting men now from all the provinces is to give this new, specially trained element of the army a broad representation.

Less clear at the moment is how they will mesh with the forces of the Northern Alliance that swept into Kabul under the cover of American bombing, after the departure of the Taleban in November, and with other forces that have been working with the Northern Alliance.

It seems that this is still under discussion in government circles.

Reports of clashes

But what is certain is that most Afghans are anxious to see impartial security forces in place as soon as possible. Men in uniform they feel they can trust rather than fear, and to see an end to the country's infamous warlord culture.

The security concerns of ordinary Afghans will not be eased by sketchy reports from a northern district of clashes between forces of rival commanders.

The defence ministry has denied that there has been any fighting in the district, Qala Zaal, but reports have linked one of the commanders to the Defence Minister, General Mohammed Fahim, and the other to his deputy, General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

There is as yet no independent information from the area.

See also:

20 Jan 02 | South Asia
US soldiers die in Afghan crash
24 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan warlord given top job
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