Security forces may need US funds for 20 more years, Karzai tells Gates

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met US Defence Secretary Robert Gates (pictured) Tuesday for talks on securing a long-term financial commitment from Washington. Karzai said Afghan security forces would need financial aid for up to two decades more.


AFP - President Hamid Karzai told visiting US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday that Afghanistan would need aid to fund its security forces for up to 20 more years, calling for a long-term US commitment.

The newly re-elected Karzai said his government would work to assume responsibility for Afghanistan's security within five years, but that the impoverished country lacked the funds to foot the entire bill.

Gates, who held talks with Karzai on implementing a new war strategy that involves sending 30,000 extra US troops to fight the Taliban, reiterated that the United States intended to start withdrawing its forces from July 2011.

"For 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources," Karzai told a news conference.

"We hope that the international community and the United States, as our first ally, will help Afghanistan reach the ability to sustain a force."

US President Barack Obama's plan to start withdrawing troops in July 2011 has sparked concern in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan that the Taliban could sit out the surge and attack a pared down force in 18 months' time.


Karzai said Afghan forces hoped to assume responsibility in critical areas in another two years and "hopefully with a maximum effort to add on the whole of the country... in five years time".

Gates was in Kabul on the first visit by a senior US official since Obama last week announced he would boost the US deployment in Afghanistan to 100,000 to counter the increasingly virulent Taliban insurgency.

The surge will allow NATO to "reverse insurgent momentum" and isolate the Taliban, the top ground commander, US General Stanley McChrystal, told a US congressional hearing on Tuesday.

But controversy flared in Afghanistan following a NATO raid in the east, which Karzai's office said had killed six civilians, including a woman.

The NATO-run force said it had no reports to substantiate claims of civilian casualties but Gates vowed that US and NATO troops would make the prevention of such deaths a "top priority".

The Pentagon chief welcomed Karzai's timeline to take over security within five years.

"It is our expectation that on a gradual conditions-based premise, that we will begin reducing our forces after July 2011.

"But we expect that this is a several year process. Whether it is three years or two years or four years I think remains to be seen. As President Obama has made it very clear, this is not an open-ended commitment," he said.

Gates acknowledged the United States faced a heavy financial commitment paying for security in Afghanistan and called on NATO allies, who have pledged an extra 7,000 troops as part of the new strategy, to help shoulder the burden.

A senior NATO commander has warned that the current police force of around 68,000 is hampered by corruption. Out of 94,000 soldiers trained so far, 10,000 have defected and 15 percent of the armed forces are drug addicts.

Gates told NBC television that the goal was to increase the Afghan army to 134,000 soldiers at the end of 2010, with an ultimate size of 240,000.

The Pentagon has said the first wave of extra US troops will head to the south next week, the scene of the worst fighting since the 2001 US-led invasion.

Soaring violence has made this year the deadliest since the Taliban fell from power, with record numbers of civilians, Afghan and foreign troops killed.

Karzai, who faces huge pressure to form a transparent government after his fraud-tainted re-election in August, is to unveil a cabinet next week.

Washington has warned him to fight corruption or see his cabinet bypassed in favour of lower level officials in the effort to supply Afghans with services.

Gates was also to hold talks with commanders on the logistical challenges involved in bringing in reinforcements.

In southern Helmand province, 1,000 US Marines, British troops and Afghan forces have been pressing a five-day offensive in a key battleground, where an Afghan commander said 11 insurgents were killed Tuesday.


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