Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants NATO troops to withdraw one year earlier than planned. He says the security forces are ready. However, experts accuse him of populism and short-sightedness.
It was an unexpected announcement for many. "We are ready to take over all security responsibilities," President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday, adding that he wanted NATO troops "to complete the transition process of security from international troops to Afghan forces in 2013, instead of 2014."
Almost a week after a US soldier allegedly went on the rampage and killed 16 civilians, including 9 children, he also asked that all foreign soldiers be pulled out of Afghan villages.
Until now, the Afghan government has supported the 2014 deadline for Western combat forces to withdraw.
Afghanistan has over 320,000 police officers and soldiers officially but many observers doubt whether they will be able to uphold security on their own.
General Zehr Azimi, the defense ministry spokesman, seems somewhat taken aback by Karzai's announcement but remains diplomatic: "Our minister says the army is strong enough. He must know." Usually known for his straight forward statements, he refuses to comment on the army's current strength.
Poorly equipped, poorly trained
However, Afghanistan's military experts are less hesitant. Assadullah Walwagi, once an army commander himself, gives the Afghan army very bad marks. "It's not even capable of disarming the warlords' private armies, let alone dealing with dangers from within and outside of Afghanistan," he says, pointing out it doesn't have an air force or tank units.
"How does the government want to fight against the insurgents in such a huge country with poorly trained and poorly equipped troops?"
Afghanistan's serving generals have yet to answer this question. Interior Minister Bismillah Muhammadi was already well aware of the problems months ago when he said the Afghan forces were not in a position to fend for themselves. "We do not have the necessary weapons. We don't have enough training. It's true that the number of police officers is rising but quantity does not mean quality."
One of the major problems is loyalty. Many police officers and troops feel more loyal to their tribes and respective warlord than to the Afghan government. Hamid Karzai is well aware of this. "So why is the president saying his weak army is strong," asks Afghanistan expert Sayfudin Sayhoon, accusing him of populism and short-sightedness.
"Karzai wants to use the anti-US atmosphere for himself and portray himself as the great protector of the nation. However, his demands are the same as those of the US, which would also like to get out of the conflict as soon as possible. He wants to give the impression he has forced NATO to withdraw earlier."
Washington has said it will adhere to the time frame that calls for international forces to shift to a support role in 2013 and hand over full security to Afghan troops in 2014. "That's the mission and we will stick to it," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday. The German government expressed similar sentiments.
NATO members will meet in Chicago at the end of May to determine how quickly their 130,000 soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan can leave the country.
Author: Ratbil Shamel / act
Editor: Sarah Berning