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KABUL: A senior international alliance officer in Afghanistan questioned yesterday why the local army, which is due to take responsibility for security next year, has demanded tanks to fight insurgents.
US led Nato combat troops will withdraw by the end of 2014, leaving Afghan forces to battle Taliban militants who use roadside bombs, suicide attacks and other guerrilla tactics to oppose the Kabul government.
“We are making a counter-insurgency force and we have our Afghan partners asking for things we would call ‘high-end war fighting’ — tanks and what you have,” Australian Brigadier Adam Findlay told reporters.
Findlay, deputy chief of operations at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul, said army officers were influenced by the experience of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“We think (the demand for tanks) is because of them defaulting to a previous Soviet model and what they experienced particularly as young men,” he said.
“What we have to have is a discussion about ‘Why are you defaulting to those kinds of items when we, as Western countries, don’t see them as central equipment for a counter-insurgency fight?’”
Findlay’s comments came as President Hamid Karzai began a visit to the US.
Karzai will be in US where he will lobby for further increases in cash and equipment for the Afghan army and police as they prepare to stand alone against the Taliban.
Afghan officials were quoted last week as also requesting sophisticated surveillance balloons, unmanned drones and aircraft to strengthen their developing military capability.
“We are aware of the shortfalls in the air force, we are trying to rectify them but that will go past the end of the ISAF mission,” Findlay said.
After 2014, the US may keep a “residual force” of US soldiers in Afghanistan to ensure that Al Qaeda cannot make a comeback and again use the country as a safe haven.
But officials in Washington have also suggested that US troops may withdraw completely from Kabul.
This heightens the concern that Afghanistan could descend into turmoil with its many warring factions taking up arms in different parts of the country.
Findlay said that militants killed or wounded more than 3,500 Afghan civilians last year — with 2,500 of the casualties caused by guerrilla-style bomb attacks.
He added that the Afghan national security forces (ANSF) had received nearly $10bn of equipment since a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in 2001.
“What is the Taliban strategy?” he asked.
“The war isn’t going well for them, every time they have an encounter with the ISAF or ANSF they come off second-best.”