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Security focus shifts to northBy Khwaja Basir Ahmad & Wahidullah Oct 3, 2010 - 17:46
KABUL (PAN): Afghan and NATO-led soldiers would increase their focus on the north, where insurgents including foreigners have intensified their activities, a defence ministry spokesman said on Sunday.
At a joint news conference with ISAF spokesman Josef Blotz, Gen. Zahir Azimi said anti-government elements -- under pressure from security forces -- had extended their operations to the north from their strongholds in the south.
The general claimed the security situation in the south and east was improving and that focus would shift to the north. "Militants are unable to create a security situation in Kunduz," he assured.
He said the militants had launched a propaganda campaign in northern provinces after Afghan and NATO forces were deployed to the south and east for security of polling stations during last month's parliamentary elections.
But Kunduz Governor Eng. Muhammad Omar said that about 40 percent of rural areas in the province were being controlled by the Taliban. He told Pajhwok Afghan News the militants could easily move around in those areas.
However, Omar added airstrikes by NATO-led ISAF soldiers had weakened the militants, who no longer posed a serious threat. "ISI-backed fighters are trying to disturb security in Kunduz," the governor alleged, referring to Pakistan spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.
Omar called for equipping and training Afghan forces, saying they lacked the tolls needed to root out the insurgents operating in his province. There were 1,000 Taliban fighters and 200 foreigners, including Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs, active in Kunduz, he said.
At the press conference, Azimi said the number of Afghan soldiers had gone up to 140,000. He hoped the army strength would reach 171,600 before the June 2011 deadline. He pointed out nearly 20,000 policemen were under training at various centres of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul and other provinces.
After the 2011deadline, another 240,000 troops would be trained, boosting Afghan security forces' strength to 400,000 -- 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 policemen. Currently, Afghanistan has a police force of 109,000.
For his part, ISAF spokesman Josef Blotz said about 45,000 foreign soldiers had been operating in the northern region. "Some are busy maintaining security and others training Afghan soldiers," he said.
ISAF soldiers had killed or captured 105 militants last month, he claimed. The militants killed in September included shadow governors for the northern provinces, group leaders, commanders and rebel facilitators," Blotz added. However, he did not provide further details.