Great news out of Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army is well ahead of schedule and expects to reach a force level of 80,000 next year. From Reuters:
Afghanistan has accelerated training for army recruits and expects to have a combat-ready force of 80,000 troops by early 2009, well ahead of initial targets, the country's defence minister said on Friday.
Abdul Rahim Wardak told Reuters the effort was part of a strategy to take over the brunt of fighting from NATO troops as soon as possible. But he repeated Afghanistan still needed help to create a viable air force before taking over full leadership.
"It will save lives for our friends and allies," Wardak said in an interview after talks with NATO counterparts in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
Wardak said U.S.-backed army training was being stepped up with the aim of turning out 4,000 soldiers a month compared with 2,000 late last year, enabling Afghanistan to surpass an internationally agreed 2006 target of 70,000 troops by end-2010.
"We hope by April, May this year we will achieve that number and we are hopeful we will reach 80,000 by March, April of 2009," Wardak said.
Training of Afghan forces was already ahead of target but Wardak's announcement that the effort would be further accelerated underlined the push to off-load more of the combat burden from the 43,000-strong NATO-led force."
So, there we go, we can leave. It's over. The Afghans are going to have plenty of troops, high-quality US trained soldiers, well more than we estimated. The Afghan army is up in the high fives while we're told the insurgents remain in the low fours. Isn't it time then for the "we'll stand down" promise? This is certainly what we were promised by Rick Hillier and his retired cheerleader, Lewis MacKenzie.
Maybe, though, we haven't been told the truth by Hillier or the government of the day. Maybe while the Afghan army has been standing up, so has the Taliban. Maybe the highly trained Afghan army isn't as capable or reliable as it should be. Who knows? It would be nice if Lardo would trust us enough to keep us informed of what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan but he doesn't and he won't.