The Taliban want to create a “great army” for Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban are creating a “big army” for Afghanistan that will include officers and soldiers who served under the former regime, the official overseeing the army’s transformation said Monday.

AFP BULLETIN/ MANILA

Latifullah Hakimi, head of the Commission for Liberation from the Ranks of the Taliban, also told a press conference that they had repaired half of the 81 helicopters and planes allegedly rendered inoperable by US-led forces during the last year’s chaotic withdrawal.

He said Taliban forces took control of more than 300,000 small arms, 26,000 heavy weapons and around 61,000 military vehicles in their lightning takeover of the country.

The Afghan armed forces disintegrated last summer in the face of a Taliban attack before US-led forces withdrew on August 31, often abandoning their bases and leaving behind all their weapons and vehicles.

The Taliban have promised a blanket amnesty for anyone linked to the former regime, but nearly all senior government and military officials were among more than 120,000 people who have been airlifted out in recent days.

However, many rank and file soldiers remained, blending into civilian life and keeping a low profile for fear of reprisals.

The United Nations said in January that more than 100 people linked to the former armed forces had been killed since August.

Hakimi, however, insisted that the Taliban amnesty had worked well.

“If it hadn’t been issued, we would have witnessed a very bad situation,” he said.

“The suicide bombers who were chasing a person to target them are now the same suicide bombers protecting them,” he added.

There is little evidence the Taliban has absorbed former troops into their ranks, but over the weekend they appointed two senior former Afghan National Army officers to senior positions in the Defense Ministry.

Both are specialist surgeons attached to the main military hospital in the country.

“Our work on forming an army continues,” Hakimi said.

“Professionals, including pilots and engineers, service personnel, logistics and administrative staff (from the old regime) have their place in the security sector.”

Hakimi said they would form “a large army…according to the country’s needs and national interests”, although he did not specify a size.

He said the army would only be what the country could afford.

Afghanistan, however, is bankrupt, with the country’s $7 billion in overseas assets seized by the United States.

Washington has said half will be set aside for a compensation fund for victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and the other half will be gradually released as part of a carefully monitored humanitarian aid fund.

Hakimi told the press conference that the Taliban had purged nearly 4,500 “undesirable people” from its ranks – mostly new recruits who joined following their takeover and were accused of a series of crimes.

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