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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 December 2007, 09:07 GMT
Karzai seeks more Afghan forces
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
President Karzai has rejected the notion of conscription
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has said that he needs more help from the international community to help build his country's armed forces.

Mr Karzai's comments come despite Afghan troops taking the lead in retaking the town of Musa Qala from the Taleban with Nato troops.

UK and US troops are now in the town, trying to secure it.

Nato forces fear there may be mines or booby-traps waiting for them and are unwilling to declare the battle over.

An Afghan ministry of defence statement recently said that the Afghan armed forces should be 200,000 strong.

But the BBC David Loyn in Kabul says there is no international support for that figure.

In 2001 the international community agreed to fund an army of 70,000 men.

It will reach that total soon and most will be equipped with US made M-16 rifles.

World-class helicopters and tanks are also being supplied from abroad.

ASSAULT ON MUSA QALA
7 December: Major offensive begins, led by Afghan forces. US soldiers dropped by helicopter to carry out overnight assault
8 December: Twelve insurgents and two children reported dead after attack on town. One British soldier killed. British and Afghan troops take positions to south, west and east of town
9 December: Two men said to be senior Taleban leaders captured. One Nato soldier killed as town surrounded
10 December: Musa Qala re-taken by Afghan forces
The Afghan government wants a larger army, not just to put down the Taleban insurgency, our correspondent says, but also to be able to project a more assertive posture in the region, with instability threatening to spill over from Pakistan to the east.

To the west, Iran has an army that is 350,000 strong, but most of that is made up of conscripts.

Some ministers, including the acting counter-narcotics minister, Gen Khodaidad, who was an officer in the Soviet-backed army in the 1980s, say compulsory conscription is the only way for Afghanistan to fulfil its defence needs at the same time as helping to build a national identity.

Mr Karzai has rejected these demands.

In Musa Qala, US troops, who are able to manoeuvre in the dark, moved through the town during the night.

Apart from Taleban remnants who may still be planning a counter-attack, the Afghan and international forces fear there may be mines or other traps laid for them in Musa Qala.

The Taleban took over the town in February, despite a controversial deal handing security to tribal elders when UK troops withdrew.

Relief effort

Since day broke on Tuesday, there have been some exchanges of gunfire in Musa Qala, although the main Taleban force left in the middle of the day on Monday, melting away into the mountains to the north.

Though there is still significant caution on the Nato side about what troops might find in the town as they secure it, the Afghan ministry of defence says Musa Qala is taken and the provincial governor has appealed to people to return to their homes.

Behind the assault force, an aid convoy is waiting with food, water and tents.

Mr Karzai has promised swift action on a reconstruction effort.

Since the Taleban took over Musa Qala, the town has become the main centre of drugs trading in Afghanistan, our correspondent says.

Speaking at a Kabul press conference with visiting UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday, Mr Karzai said the decision to attack followed reports of atrocities being perpetrated by the insurgents the town.

He recounted the story of a 15-year-old boy who was accused of spying by the Taleban.

Mr Karzai said the Taleban hanged him from a ceiling and lit two gas cylinders below him, burning him to death.

"Some of the Afghan Taleban who also witnessed atrocities like that, they came and they met with me and they asked me to intervene and (said) that they will switch sides and that is what's happened," the president said.

Musa Qala map



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