U.S. to Train New Afghan Army

The new Afghan National Army will be used to improve regional security and guard the borders of unsettled parts of Afghanistan. No country has been willing to lend their forces to secure areas beyond Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Rumsfeld said a centralized army would give Afghanistan “a better chance for peace and security.”

The U.S. will not send additional troops for the training, but will use the troops already stationed in the region to prepare Afghan officers and non-commissioned officers within the next four to six weeks.

“One of our missions has been to ensure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists,” said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This assistance we’re going to provide … is directly part of that mission.”

The size and cost of the Afghan National Army have not been determined yet, said Rumsfeld, adding that such details would be decided after the installation of the permanent government.

The new corps would receive orders directly from Kabul, and would not be affiliated with any region or individual. Pentagon officials said this was a strong attempt to disarm regional warlords and to centralize Afghan military and government.

Historically, ethnic and regional rivalries have sparked major conflicts in Afghanistan; Rumsfeld today said that he believes a new army would help stabilize the country and defuse regional conflicts.

The U.S. will work with other governments to raise money to pay for training and operating costs of the Afghan army, which includes wages for soldiers. The Bush administration would also consider requesting additional funds from Congress, Rumsfeld said.

According to officials at the Pentagon, up to 150 members of the U.S. Army Special Forces would train a corps of Afghan officers for 10-week periods, with the goal that those officers would eventually train future recruits.

Currently, there are thousands of potential recruits hoping to receive basic army training. Many of them are paid by local businessmen or receive small food rations.

The moves in Washington came as news that the deposed Afghan king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, had again delayed his return to Kabul from exile in Italy. Karzai was scheduled to meet with the former king in Rome on Sunday and then return to Kabul with him. Karzai has denied allegations that Zahir Shah did not return for reasons of poor security.

The former king is expected to supplant the interim government and convene a Loya Jirga, or grand council, in June to begin Afghanistan’s path to democracy.