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Afghans seek more arms, funds for troop training

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) Afghanistan's fledgling army needs greater Western help to boost firepower, air support and communications gear to enable the country to fight off a rising Taliban insurgency, Kabul's defense minister has said.

Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said on the eve of talks with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Afghan army could conduct independent operations and require less allied support if it had ''combat enablers'' such as vehicles and aircraft.

''We are asking both the United States and NATO countries to help us in equipping and arming and training the Afghan national army,'' he told reporters in Washington.

Fighting in Afghanistan this year is the worst since US and British-led forces ousted the hard-line Islamist Taliban exactly five years ago.

Enabling Afghan troops to defend the country against the insurgents would save money and boost confidence in the government, he added.

Armored vehicles, helmets, jackets, light and heavy arms, airplanes and helicopters were all on the Afghan wish list, Wardak said, without specifying the quantity or value of the aid being sought.

He said Kabul aimed to speed up the recruiting and training of the army, to raise the force to a strength of 70,000 by 2008, about two years ahead of the original target. The force now numbers 36,000 troops, up from 24,000 in early 2005.

''The more the resources, the time will get shorter,'' Wardak said of the buildup of Afghanistan's army.

''It will also save lives for the ISAF forces, which in some cases, especially Europe, sometimes they have political complications for accepting casualties,'' Wardak said, referring to international troops, including 31,000 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

REUTERS DKS PM0706

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