Afghan Army faces key test in anti-Taliban offensive
Afghan forces are performing well in retaking a Taliban stronghold, but Afghan defense officials are concerned about insufficient weaponry and training.
An offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan this week is the first test for the new Afghan Army, which Western leaders expect to shoulder more responsibilities even as Al Qaeda regroups.Skip to next paragraph
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So far, the Afghan Army is performing well, and today it captured a major Taliban stronghold, according to the Associated Press:
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said that Afghan, British and U.S. forces had "completely captured" Musa Qala, a town in the poppy growing belt of northern Helmand province. He said fighting was continuing around the town.
The Guardian newspaper of Britain reports that forces were preparing for a final assault:
Up to 6,000 British, American and Afghan forces fighting Taliban militants holding the strategically important Afghan town of Musa Qala were yesterday preparing for a final assault in the days to come.
The battle is the first major test of the new NATO-trained Afghan Army.
The Guardian adds that the offensive began last Friday.
British Defense Secretary Des Browne, who was in Kabul Sunday to talk to his Afghan counterpart, Abdul Rahman Wardak, said in a statement released from London that a key element in the operation was that the Afghan Army was in control, according to Agence France-Presse:
"This is an important operation, but the most important thing about it is that Afghan forces are leading," Browne said in a separate statement released from London.
'They are doing so with the assistance of international forces, including British forces. The Afghan government has long said that it would retake Musa Qala from the scourge of the Taliban when the time is right. The time is now right."
A graph in The Washington Post offers a partial listing of weapons to be sent to Afghanistan – including 10 helicopters and 400 armored Humvees – as well as the projected rise in the number of trained Afghan forces between 2003 and 2008.
But the operation throws a spotlight on an Afghan Army that, although coming into its own, badly needs more assistance, the Post reports.
The Afghan army, now 50,000 strong, expects to reach its target strength of 70,000 soldiers by the middle of next year, Afghan and U.S. officials say. Under the new plan, it would then begin recruiting as many as 12,000 additional soldiers, for a total of 82,000, according to Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammed Karimi, the army's operations chief.
While U.S. officials cite the achievements of the Afghan military, the force has historically suffered from high attrition rates. It has also lacked sufficient military aid and trainers, and has been hobbled by old weaponry, Afghan defense officials say.