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Karzai considers introducing Afghan conscription

Karzai outlines five-year plan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told a conference of the world's top defence officials in Germany that he is considering introducing conscription.

The Afghan president said at the summit in Munich he wants to build an army and police force of 300,000 by 2012.

His comments come as US-led forces are poised to launch a major offensive in Helmand province against the Taliban.

The Nato commander, General Stanley McChrystal, said the operation would "send a strong signal".

Mr Karzai told the Munich conference that a number of Afghan community leaders had urged him to consider conscription.

An Afghan policeman walks by wreckage of a police vehicle hit by a bomb in Kandahar on 7 February 2010
Three Afghan policemen died when their vehicle hit a bomb near Kandahar

"Afghanistan should be able to provide security for its people, so we are no longer a burden on the shoulders of the international community and the partners that are there with us today," he said.

The idea of reintroducing a military draft - which was used in Afghanistan until 1992 - has been suggested before.

Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said last week there was no need for conscription as the army had no lack of recruits.

'Prepare for casualties'

The Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen McChrystal, promised a major offensive about to begin in central Helmand would send a "strong signal that the Afghan government is expanding its security control".

MARJA IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Town and district about 40km (25 miles) south-west of Lashkar Gah
Lies in Helmand's 'Green Zone' - an irrigated area of lush vegetation and farmland
Last remaining major Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand
Area considered a centre for assembling roadside bombs
Key supply centre for opium poppies - lucrative revenue source for Taliban
Estimates of Taliban numbers range up to 1,000
Population of Marja town put at 80,000 while the whole of Marja district is thought to have 125,000

Thousands of coalition and Afghan troops are converging for the operation to capture the town of Marja, a Taliban stronghold.

The attack - codenamed Moshtarak, which means "together" in the Pashtun language of southern Afghanistan - is expected to begin any day.

UK Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said on Sunday the British public should be ready for military casualties once the offensive begins.

"We shouldn't deny or pretend to people that ... casualties are not a very real risk on these kind of operations and people have to be prepared for that," he said.

Planning has been under way for weeks.

Provincial officials said about 35,000 residents of Marja were taking the advice and heading to other parts of Helmand.

One Marja resident, Gul Muhammed, told AFP news agency why he had left town.

"There are Taliban all over the place and foreign troops around Marja," he said. "So I was scared that we might get hurt."

The forthcoming offensive will be the first major military action since US President Barack Obama announced his surge of 30,000 extra US troops for Afghanistan in December.

Meanwhile, three Afghan policemen died on Sunday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb near the southern city of Kandahar.

In a separate development, Nato-led forces said they had arrested an Afghan police commander alleged to have worked with Taliban insurgents to distribute and plant roadside bombs.

Attaullah Wahab is also accused of corruption and of being linked to a murder.

His activities are said to have taken place in the north of the country at Bagram, site of the country's main US military hub, and in the provinces of Parwan and Kapisa.

Map of Helmand Province and key locations



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