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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Afghan army sees first combat
By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC correspondent in Kabul

Afghan national army troops
There are already reports of desertions from the national army
Afghanistan's national army is engaged in its first major combat operation.

It is taking place in the southern part of the country, which has seen a resurgence of violence in recent weeks.

About 1,000 soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA), together with foreign troops, are deployed in Operation Warrior Sweep.

The ANA now has 5,000 trained soldiers.

Intelligence reports

No details of the operation have been made public, except that the offensive involves six companies of the national army.

Operation Warrior Sweep was launched in the Zormat Valley region of the southern Paktia province on the basis of intelligence reports that some Taleban and al-Qaeda operatives were active in the area.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum
General Dostum is one of the warlords who says he might disarm

According to a spokesperson of the coalition troops, the ANA will be playing a key role in Afghanistan's security from now on.

In addition to combat operations, the ANA will also provide support to the civil officials in the Zormat Valley to help Afghan's citizens.

Officials of the ANA will coordinate with local community leaders and help identify locations for medical assistants' visits to the valley in the future.

Eventually, the ANA will have 70,000 soldiers.

But that may not happen until the dozens of powerful provincial warlords in Afghanistan decide to disband their private armies.

Some warlords have, in principle, agreed to disarm.

But it may not be easy to disarm private armies in a country where national identity often takes a back seat to fierce ethnic loyalties.

Then there is also the issue of money.

An ordinary soldier in the ANA gets paid only $50 a month and there are already reports of some desertions because of the poor salary structure.


SEE ALSO:
Renewed clashes in Afghanistan
06 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Canadians head Kabul force
17 Jul 03  |  South Asia
Afghans 'must restore security'
30 Jun 03  |  South Asia
UN urges Afghan army reform
09 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Afghan militias agree to unity
21 Apr 03  |  South Asia
Afghan force changes leaders
10 Feb 03  |  South Asia


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