Afghan Army Aware that Challenges Remain

BRUSSELS - Afghanistan's army is now carrying out virtually all ground operations in the country on its own but has problems, including dealing with booby traps, mines and other potentially deadly explosive devices, the Afghan Defense Ministry's spokesman said Wednesday during a visit to NATO.

"We believe the only way to bring about security is to stand on our own feet," Maj. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said. "Still, when it comes to equipment and training, we have challenges."

In the past year, Azimi said, more than 70 percent of Afghan military casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines or other ordnance. To eliminate that area of vulnerability and enable the Afghan army to carry out independent operations more effectively and safely, better equipment and training are necessary, he said.

Azimi was part of a delegation of Afghan government spokespeople that visited the headquarters of NATO as their nation and the United States were deadlocked about the fate of the U.S.-led military force in Afghanistan after 2014, when most troops are scheduled to leave.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. before the end of this year, a timeline Washington says must be met if any American forces are to remain after 2014.

Adela Raz, Karzai's first deputy spokeswomen and director of communications, said the agreement will only be acceptable to the Afghan government and populace as a whole if the Americans promise to no longer raid their homes.

"Making sure that Afghan lives are safe, that's a demand and a request from the Afghan people," she during the delegation's visit to NATO.

Azimi, in a generally upbeat assessment of the Afghan armed forces' current status, said they are now up to strength at 195,000, so the focus has turned to training to heighten their professionalism.

Reconnaissance, intelligence, logistics and engineering are among the areas singled out for improvement, he said.

The Afghans also hope NATO member nations will supply them with more equipment. Until very recently, Azimi said, Afghanistan's air force didn't have a single operating airplane.

"Air defense, armor, tanks - these are very much needed for any army when it comes to external security," the general said. "So we have been trying to draw the attention of our donor countries, especially the United States of America, to this specific issue. For example, air defense, and also heavy weapons, and artillery, and armor. We have been trying to convince our international partners to equip us with these weapons."

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