Afghan army slowly pulls itself up by bootstraps

Thu Sep 25, 2008 8:11pm EDT
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By Sanjeev Miglani

PUL-I-CHARKHI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan army recruit Mohammad Sediq is sitting out his class at a military academy on the outskirts of Kabul because his feet became swollen after he wore ill-fitting military boots without socks.

Another former school dropout slumps on a chair at the back of an open-air class on map-reading staring blankly, either unable to comprehend the language or the subject.

From such disparate and unlikely troops, the Afghan National Army (ANA), the key to the nation's long term stability, is being built from the ground up, as it were.

It lacks guns, tanks, planes. Its troops speak different languages, and its wages lag behind the salaries paid by a resurgent Taliban to their foot soldiers.

But it has fighting spirit. It can move fast in the rugged Afghan terrain and most of all, it is beginning to win respect in a nation with few institutions or contemporary heroes.

"This is our pride. This is our hope for the future," says Major-General Zaher Azimi, a former mujahideen commander and now an adviser and spokesman at the Afghan defense ministry.

"The only solution for Afghanistan in the long term is building Afghan institutions, and a strong military is the first of them."

Earlier this month, the government and the international donors that Afghanistan relies on, agreed to nearly double the strength of the ANA to 134,000.   Continued...

<p>Afghan National army soldiers and German Bundeswehr army soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol during a mission in the mountains near Feyzabad, north of Kabul, September 21, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch</p>