NOOR KHIEL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's new army faces huge challenges once the U.S. and NATO armies are gone in 2014.
Taliban propaganda has tried to plant the notion that because the army works with foreign forces, its members are not Muslim. One battalion commander says until villagers see soldiers drop to their knees and recite the daily prayer, "they think that we are like the foreigners — infidels."
An Associated Press reporter and photographer recently spent two weeks with four different army units where the Taliban is strong. There were equipment shortages, rifles that jam, and fears that once the U.S. and NATO aircraft are gone, remote and important outposts will become inaccessible and have to close.
Abdul Haleem Noori, a colonel in his 60s, says training used to last for months, now it's six weeks. And he says, "Today we have no discipline. If a soldier doesn't want to go somewhere he doesn't."
By year's end, the Afghan army is likely to number around 200,000, and soldiers complain that that's not enough. One lieutenant says the army won't be ready when NATO pulls out. He says, "Even in 30 years we cannot be ready."