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Afghan defense forces must be stronger, foreign minister says
Lisa Burgess
Stars and Stripes

ARLINGTON, Va. — The government of Afghanistan is satisfied with the levels of U.S. and NATO troops in that country, but is in need of “immediate resources” to pay for more and better equipped Afghan defense forces to battle the resurgent Taliban, Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta said Thursday.

“I think we have enough soldiers in Afghanistan from the international community, in the form of NATO soldiers and also coalition soldiers,” Spanta told reporters during a breakfast meeting at the Afghan Embassy in Washington. “The weakness is in Afghan security and defense power.”

One major purpose of his first official trip to Washington is to ask Bush administration officials for permission to use U.S. funds already pledged for aid to Afghanistan to fund higher police salaries and more “mobility equipment,” Spanta said.

“The number of Afghan soldiers and security power must be three, four times as much as we have today, and their equipment must be modern, and also, it is necessary to increase the mobility of this power,” Spanta said.

On Wednesday, Spanta met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to President Bush.

On Friday, Spanta will go to the Pentagon to meet with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said.

Spanta said he is not asking Bush officials for more money to fund Afghan troops and police.

That was forthcoming on Monday, when the administration announced that it was giving an additional $2 billion worth of military weapons and vehicles to Afghanistan’s national army.

Instead, he is asking U.S. government officials to open the spigot on funds that are already earmarked for Afghanistan, but still unspent, according to Afghanistan Ambassador Said Jawad, who also attended the breakfast.

“There is some money that has not been used yet,” Jawad said.

The Afghan government’s goal in this week’s talks is “to make sure these funds become quickly available to Afghan authorities,” he said.

Jawad noted that in some of Afghan’s provinces, “for more than 40,000 people, we have only 39 policemen,” whose equipment is “very primitive … only three or four western Jeeps.”

That is the opposite of the Taliban forces the police battle, Spanta noted, who “use Land Cruisers with very modern weapons.”

Salaries are also extremely low for Afghan police, Jawad said — as little as $40 per month in the provinces.

It is “unrealistic” to expect someone to take such a low salary for such a dangerous job, Jawad said — particularly if that same individual could make “$300 a month driving a cab in Kabul” for the international aid organizations or NATO or other coalition forces that are headquartered in the capital city.

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