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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 December 2007, 16:36 GMT
Afghan army to 'treble in size'
By David Loyn
BBC News, Kabul

Members of an Afghan National Army commando during their graduation ceremony  (file pic)
The US has the lead role in modernising the Afghan army
The Afghan ministry of defence has announced plans to treble the size of its army.

The ministry said this was to dissuade Afghanistan's neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, from interfering, as well as to provide better internal security.

At the Bonn conference that mapped out the post-Taleban future for Afghanistan six years ago, an army of 70,000 was thought to be enough.

But the scale of the conflict was not predicted then.

Balance of forces

The Afghan National Army will number 70,000 by the end of this year - ahead of schedule - and the spokesman for the ministry of defence, General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, now says that Afghanistan wants to increase the army size to 200,000.

He said it would be cheaper than using foreign forces to deal with the insurgency inside Afghanistan and, in robust terms, he said it would dissuade Afghanistan's neighbours from interfering.

He said that larger armed forces for Afghanistan will keep the balance of forces in the region.

Last week, Afghan forces carried out their first independent operation, resulting in a major drug seizure in Helmand province in the south-west.

However, international forces that have been monitoring their progress are still concerned about their ability to fight effectively on their own.

General Azimi said that most of the army will soon be equipped with US-made M-16 rifles and Afghanistan will shortly take delivery of 27 Leopard tanks supplied by Germany, as well as 22 military helicopters.

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