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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 19:23 GMT
Afghan forces face uphill struggle
Tanks of Afghanistan's elite tank battalion
The tank battalion is still relying on old Soviet hardware
Following the call by Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai for the creation of a national army, Russian TV has reported from the site of the country's "elite" tank battalion.

The unit, under the personal command of Mr Karzai himself, would hardly be described as elite anywhere else in the world.

Only ten tanks have been left behind by the recently departed Taleban and these were originally driven into the country by Soviet forces in the 1980s.

What they do have in quantity are large piles of scrap metal, described by the Afghan occupants as "spare parts".

New clothes

But the recruits are enthusiastic.

One of the newest is Nur Rahman, conscripted into the battalion just a week earlier.

Devastation at an Afghan air force base
US bombing has left little intact

"We are being fed here and we have been given new clothes," he tells the TV.

He says his commander has said that he will soon be sent to a new training centre.

"But I know everything already; how to shoot and how to drive a tank."

Preference

All the officers in the battalion are talking about the military reform being undertaken by Mr Karzai's provisional government.

The plan is to transform what are currently tens of disparate armed units based along party and ethnic lines into a regular army within the next six months.


Not everybody will be admitted into the new army

Tank division commander Abdul Latif

All of Afghanistan's ethnic groups will be represented in the envisioned 250,000-strong armed force in proportion to their size of population, but not on the basis of party affiliation.

Commander of the tank division Abdul Latif says "not everybody will be admitted into the new army".

The destroyed hangar at an Afghan air force base
Rebuilding the armed forces could take some time

What the government plans is that men aged between 22 and 42 will serve for periods of two years in the new army and that the officer corps will also be overhauled.

And preference will be given to officers who served under the former king Zahir Shah or else under the man who toppled him and ruled until he in turn was removed by the communists in 1978, Mohammad Daud Khan.

Cosmonaut

The TV also interviews Afghan Air Force Commander-in-Chief, Mohammad Dauran, at an air force base also described as "elite".


We have a very big problem

Air Force Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Dauran

Mr Dauran, who trained as a Soviet cosmonaut and was due to go on a mission to the Mir space station in 1988 until he fell sick, says he faces "serious problems" in trying to restore the country's air force after 23 years of war.

"Because everything was destroyed in those 23 years, especially during the latest military action by the antiterrorist coalition."

"We have a very big problem in this respect."

While the command has "thousands" of professional pilots at its disposal, the air force currently consists of just six planes and six helicopters.

But the prospects are brighter for at least one section of the population, for under the reforms it is planned that women will be recruited to be trained as air traffic controllers.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

22 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
09 Jan 02 | Media reports
Karzai's nationwide address
09 Jan 02 | South Asia
Karzai calls for Afghan army
14 Jan 02 | Americas
Afghan caves pounded by bombers
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