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Karzai Attends Graduation Ceremony of New Afghan Soldiers - 2002-07-23


The first battalion of U.S.-trained Afghan soldiers graduated from basic training Tuesday, ready to take up their duties in the new Afghan national army. The freshly minted troops are being assigned to the presidential palace, where concerns about the security of the Afghan president have been running high.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai led a high-level delegation at the graduation ceremony at a former military academy on the eastern edge of Kabul.

About 300 men completed the 10-week course, taught by members of the U.S. Army's special forces. Two other battalions are being trained, one of them by French instructors.

Afghan military leaders said they would like to form an army of 200,000 men, if they can get enough financing for the effort.

After a review of the troops, President Karzai called the emerging national army the backbone of Afghanistan. He told the soldiers they will protect the territory, independence and national security of Afghanistan and all of its people.

The defense minister, Mohammed Fahim, said the army is being built from nothing, and that many officers are being recalled who had left the service during Taleban rule.

Mr. Fahim said he wants an army that is trusted and respected by all Afghans. And he pledged that the army will not interfere in the political affairs of the country. His words are closely followed, as political observers have said Mr. Fahim could be a rival to President Karzai.

Commanders at the military training center said the new troops are being deployed at the presidential palace in Kabul. That announcement comes one day after U.S. and Afghan officials confirmed that U.S. Army soldiers, including special forces troops, are providing security for Mr. Karzai.

Security concerns for the president have heightened since the July 6 assassination of Vice President Abdul Qadir.

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