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Inside Story

Are Afghan forces ready to take the reins?

As concerns grow over torture and troop desertions, we ask if Afghanistan is ready for NATO forces to withdraw in 2014.
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2013 13:22

David Cameron, the British prime minister, is hosting a key summit with Afghan and Pakistani leaders to discuss bringing peace to Afghanistan.

This is the third such meeting since last summer. But for the first time, army and intelligence chiefs from both sides will join the talks - and they have plenty on their plates.

"NATO is not leaving en masse. There is going to be a 10-year programme to advise and assist the Afghan military .... If all the forces left at one time it would in fact inspire significant violence inside of Afghanistan and could topple the Afghan national security forces. But what is in fact happening is that the Afghan forces are taking the lead; the NATO forces to a great extent will be gone, but a significant number will be there to provide assistance and enabling for years to come."

- Mark Kimmitt, former US assistant secretary of state

NATO troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year.

But a senior Afghan commander warns that withdrawing British troops could spark what he calls a global jihad.

Colonel Amin Jan said 2014 was too early to hand over security to the Afghan Army.

He said the army was too weak to defeat the Taliban, which could seize the chance to return to power.

More than 3,000 foreign troops have died in the Afghan conflict since 2001. But while the number of coalition casualties is falling, more Afghans are now in the firing line.

Latest figures show more than 1,200 Afghan soldiers died in 2012, up from 550 the previous year. And more soldiers are giving up the fight - on average, some 4,800 every month.

In the past three months, the rate of desertion exceeded recruitment, leaving the army below its target force of 185,000.

At the same time, the UN and Human Rights Watch have strongly criticised Afghan intelligence services for widespread and systematic torture.

The Afghan government says it will investigate the findings of the latest UN report on torture in Afghanistan. It follows on from a similar study 12 months earlier.

"I think the Afghan troops have a way to go in terms of their readiness [to take over]; both in terms of capacity but also in terms of the willingness and the appetite for the kind of fight that might be required if there was a free-for-all civil war in Afghanistan."

- Mosharraf Zaidi, former adviser to Pakistan foreign minister

The government has dismissed the new report as "unfair" and "unfounded'.
 
The UN concluded that there had been no significant reduction in prisoner abuse, which it said remained rampant in detention centres run by Afghan intelligence services.

It found credible and reliable evidence that 326 of 635 detainees interviewed had been tortured or ill-treated, and nearly a quarter of them were children.

Fourteen different forms of torture were reported, including: suspension from ceilings; prolonged and severe beatings; electric shocks; and the threat of execution and rape. The report also condemned NATO forces for ignoring the abuse.

So, amid growing concerns over torture, troop desertions, and doubts from a top commander, is time running out to secure the country?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch; Mosharraf Zaidi, a former adviser to Pakistan's foreign minister; and Mark Kimmitt, a former US assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs.


AFGHANISTAN'S CHALLENGE

  • US President Barack Obama announced his plan in 2011 to pull troops from Afghanistan 
  • US and NATO have agreed to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 
  • Pentagon says troops are needed in Afghanistan to contain al-Qaeda 
  • In 2010, the US had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan 
  • The US currently has 66,000 troops serving in Afghanistan 
  • The UK is set to withdraw 3,800 troops from Afghanistan in 2013 
  • David Cameron is hosting summit in Chequers country retreat near London 
  • Cameron meeting presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan 
  • The three leaders will discuss how to prevent resurgence of Taliban

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