Afghan defence minister to push ahead with disarming militias

KABUL - Afghanistan’s new defence minister pledged to speed up the disarmament of the country’s private militias and strengthen the national army as he outlined his policies for the next five years Wednesday.
“We have lots of work ahead. We will intensify the building of the national army,” Abdul Rahim Wardak, who was sworn in to President Hamid Karzai’s new cabinet last week, told reporters in Kabul.

He said the national force would enable the central government to extend its authority into the provinces where warlords with their own militias still hold sway.

Afghanistan is struggling to build an army to replace the thousands of mujahedin loyal to the regional commanders who helped the US oust the hardline Islamic Taleban in 2001.

The force, recruited from Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups, has so far reached some 20,000 troops, far from its final goal of 70,000.

“The ministry of defence will put all of its efforts to intensify the building of the national army. We hope that it will be completed in December 2006,” said Wardak, who replaced powerful Northern Alliance general Mohammed Qasim Fahim in the cabinet.

Wardak said that he would prefer to continue a “strategic partnership” with the US-led coalition and NATO peacekeeping forces for the long-term fight against terrorism.

He added that his ministry and its international partners would continue to fight Taleban and Al Qaeda militants remaining in the country.

“We will root out international terrorism in Afghanistan for ever,” he said.

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