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Karzai calls for Afghan Army

Afghanistan's interim leader Karzai has called for an Afghan army to promote stability. Meanwhile, international security forces have begun to patrol Kabul's streets. And German troops are still delayed.

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Armed Afghans are a threat to peace

Seven US marines were killed when a military refuelling plane crashed in a remote corner of Pakistan on Wednesday. The aircraft, which was coming in to land, burst into flames as it hit a mountain near a base used by American forces in Shamsi, southwestern pakistan, close to the Iranian border.

Pentagon has not ruled out that the plane was under enemy fire. Witnesses say the plane was on fire before it crashed.

Meanwhile, the US has been pressing on with ist anti-terror campaign, pounding suspected Al Queda complexes with bombs. In eastern Afghanistan, Washington kept up ist relentless bombing of the Zhawar Kili Caves, a vast underground tunnel network where Taliban fighters had apparently been trying to regroup.

The complex has been the focus of US attacks for several days. On Monday, US forces captured two senior Al Queda fighters near the Zhawar Kili caves, along with valuable intelligence material.

Afghanistan’s leader Hamid Karzai called for the creation of a national army on Wednesday. "Let us join together and make a national army," he said. The establishment of a national army can be seen as a significant step to more security in a country where local tribal leaders have commanded their own forces independently.

In his first national address since he took over leadership of the country 18 days ago, Mr Karzai also announced plans to control inflation, boost manufacturing and create jobs, pledging to foster a market economy.

His speech came just hours after interim interior minister Younis Qanooni ordered all armed men except for the police and official security forces to leave the capital and return to their bases.

Thousands of heavily armed Northern Alliance troops have occupied the capital since Taliban militia left the city in November.

Law and order under the interim government is to be left to the Afghan police service, along with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Hopes for more safety are set on the British-led multinational security force, mandated by the United Nations, which has started patrolling in Kabul. ISAF, led by Britain for the first and Turkey by the last 3 of ist 6-month term, is expected to reach a total 4,500 soldiers by the end of this month.

But while security force troops have commenced moving into Kabul, German troops destined for the mission are still stuck at a Turkish air base due to poor weather.

Still stuck

According to Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping, the troops were scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan by Thursday morning. But the 70 soldiers of the advance commando are still waiting in a Turkish hotel.

Germany has pledged some 3,900 troops for the war on terrorism, including up to 800 from units outfitted with armored reconnaissance vehicles designed to detect nuclear, biological and chemical agents in war zones.

Scharping denied reports that German military would be soon be sent to Kuwait. He told reporters on Wednesday that no concrete decision had been taken on whether German forces trained and equipped for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare would be sent to the Arabian Peninsula or not.

Prior to his denial, the German Defence Ministry had said on Tuesday that "a possible stationing of part of these forces on the Arabian Peninsula is foreseen." German ZDF television later reported that 50 soldiers were due to leave for Kuwait in the coming days.

Sharping rejected speculation that deployment was under consideration as part of a possible US attack on Iraq. There are "no indications" of a forthcoming military strike against Iraq, Mr. Scharping said, "on the contrary," he added, echoing the words of U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who earlier this week suggested that Iraq was not on the brink of being targeted in the U.S. campaign against terrorism.

Top Taliban members run free

In Washington, the US State Department made clear that it wanted all senior Taliban officials who have surrendered to be detained for interrogation and not to be released. The announcement followed news of freed leading Taliban members who had surrendered in Kandahar.

The seven top Taliban government officials who had surrendered to the city’s authorities had been released by local authorities and may have left the country, interim Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said on Wednesday.

The three were former minister of defence, Mullah Obaidullah, the former minister of mines, Mullah Saadudin, and the former minister of justice, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi.

"I’m sure we’ll be looking into the matter further," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Meanwhile, US forces are preparing the transportation of around 368 Al Queda prisoners to the US Navy base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

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