January 29, 2008 / 3:03 PM / 10 years ago

Afghans eye taking combat lead against Taliban

<p>Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai (R) meets Germany's Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung at the presidential palace in Kabul January 29, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch</p>

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan urged Western allies on Tuesday to channel more aid to the country’s security forces to enable them to take the lead in fighting Taliban-led insurgents.

U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban’s government in late 2001, but in the last two years the Islamist militants and their al Qaeda allies have made a comeback, prompting hesitancy among some NATO members about deploying troops in areas where the insurgents are most active.

Foreign troops lead the war against the insurgents, but a steady stream of civilian casualties has prompted Afghan officials to ask repeatedly for more coordination of the operations.

Afghanistan’s Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, speaking at a joint news conference with his visiting German counterpart, said the country wanted to take the lead in the war.

“We are all in full agreement that the only sustainable way to secure this country in an enduring way is to enable the Afghans themselves to be able to defend this country against all external and internal threats,” Wardak said.

“We are expecting from all friends and allies ... that they shall assist us in further accelerating the program of the growth of the Afghan National Army and national security forces both in quality and quantity.”

The militants’ resurgence comes despite the presence of 50,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military, backed by partially Western-trained and equipped Afghan security forces now numbering more than 120,000.

“Eventually, as our size grows and our capabilities improve, ... we can have the capability to relieve our friends and our allies from the burden of the joint campaign,” Wardak added.

“So our final aim is that we don’t want to be a permanent burden on the international community. We have defended this country for thousands and thousands of years against all the odds and are ready for this.”

The insurgency has slowed the pace of economic growth and reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan, with the Taliban saying their main goal is to drive out the foreign troops.

German Defence Minister, Franz Josef Jung, said Berlin, which has more than 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly in the relatively secure north, will send a quick-reaction combat force, saying soldiers were expected to fight as well as provide protection and support.

But he did not make any pledge to send troops to the restive south and east, where the insurgents are most active.

Editing by Alex Richardson

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