Karzai: Afghanistan may institute conscription to meet security goals

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Karzai: Afghanistan may institute conscription

MUNICH — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday he is looking at instituting conscription to build an army big enough to provide security without international help.

Karzai told a conference of the world’s top defense officials in Munich that he wants to build and train an army and police force of 300,000 by 2012 that will be able to provide security for Afghanistan by 2015 without international help.

Within five years, “Afghanistan should be able to provide security for its people so we are no longer a burden on the shoulders of the international community,” he said.

Last week, however, Afghanistan’s defense minister told reporters the army had no shortage of recruits and that there was no need to force people to serve. Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said the government could not implement conscription “in the current Afghan situation” but left open whether it could be instituted in the future.

Last month, Afghanistan’s international partners agreed to expand the Afghan National Army from the current figure of about 97,000 to 171,600 by the end of next year. The Afghan National Police will be boosted from about 94,000 today to 134,000.

The Afghans had been lobbying for expanding the security force to 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police within five years but the plan was set for the time being because of the expense, lack of training camps and problems training and equipping such a large force.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, complained last month that NATO had sent only 37 percent of the trainers it needed to teach initial eight-week courses for Afghan recruits.

During the conference, Karzai indicated that international troops would still be needed beyond his five-year target, saying that the “war on terrorism … is an issue separate from this security arrangement in Afghanistan.”

He suggested that Afghanistan’s volunteer system may not be able to provide the manpower necessary to meet his goals, and that an army of citizen soldiers could have other advantages.

“For the past many years I’ve been visited by Afghan community leaders who are advising me to go back to some form of conscription for the Afghan army so the young boys of the Afghanistan countryside can … come to training centers, get acquainted with the rest of the country, get familiarized with other young men around the country and learn something and go back home,” he said.

“This will be philosophically one of our pursuits as we move ahead into the future in consultation with the Afghan people.”

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