Taliban no long-term threat-Afghan defence minister

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KABUL, Nov 17 (Reuters) Afghan security forces need more foreign training and arms to fight the Taliban but when the forces are up to strength the insurgents will not pose a long-term threat to stability, the defence minister said today.

While Taliban attacks cannot defeat the 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan alone, their strategy is to inflict casualties on international forces until Western public opinion demands their withdrawal leaving Afghan forces exposed.

Meanwhile, Taliban suicide bombs are aimed at undermining Afghan faith in the government's ability to deliver security.

''The psychological effects on people's minds is to make them think the situation is getting worse,'' Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told a news conference after a trip to Afghanistan's main backer, the United States.

''The enemies have resorted to fighting in small groups and conduct guerrilla warfare and ambushes, but they are not posing any threat to long-term security in Afghanistan,'' he said.

NATO commanders admit there is no purely military solution to the Afghan conflict and say the key to victory is to build up the Afghan security forces and bring governance and development.

''Afghan security forces should be able to stand against all internal and external threats independently,'' Wardak said. ''The international community must help Afghanistan reach this level ... (then) NATO will reduce its forces gradually.'' MORE TROOPS, MORE GUNS That could be some time though. Afghan police, until a large injection of US funds this year, have suffered from a lack of investment and training and the Afghan army -- a relative success story -- is still not up to full strength.

There are 55,000 trained soldiers in the Afghan National Army out of a target strength of 70,000. The defence minister said even more might be needed.

Wardak said he had told US officials that house-to-house searches should be conducted alongside Afghan forces and more precautions needed to be taken to avoid civilian casualties.

The United States would soon be shipping NATO-standard weapons, including M-16 rifles and ammunition, to replace Soviet-era equipment, Wardak said. Some 4,000 armoured vehicles, including Humvees, would also be sent.

Such arm supplies will mean Afghan forces will be better placed to take on the Taliban after the traditional winter lull in fighting, Wardak said.

Reuters PD RS1823

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