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Taliban to form ‘Grand Army’ with old regime troops

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KABUL: Taliban official tasked with overseeing the military’s transformation said, will create a ‘Grand Army’ for Afghanistan which will also include the officers and troops of old regime military.

Latifullah Hakimi, head of the Taliban’s Ranks Clearance Commission, also told a news conference that they had repaired half the 81 helicopters and planes supposedly rendered unserviceable by the United States-led forces during last year’s chaotic withdrawal.

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

Afghanistan’s armed forces disintegrated in the face of a Taliban onslaught ahead of the August 31 US-led force withdrawal, often abandoning their bases and leaving behind all their weapons and vehicles.

The Taliban has promised a general amnesty for everyone linked to the old regime, but nearly all senior government and military officials were among the more than 120,000 people who evacuated by air in the final days.

Many of the rank and file remained, melting back 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 old armed forces have been killed since August.

Hakimi insisted, however, 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 him are now the same suicide bombers protecting him,” he added.

There has been little evidence the Taliban has absorbed former troops into their ranks but, over the weekend, it named two senior ex-Afghan National Army officers to top posts in the defence ministry.

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

“Our work on the formation of an army is going on,” Hakimi said. “Professionals including pilots and engineers, service persons, logistical and administrative staff (from the previous regime) are in their places in the security sector.”

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

He said the army would only be one that the country could afford.

Afghanistan is effectively bankrupt, with $7bn in overseas assets seized by the US.

Washington said half will be reserved for a fund to compensate victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks, and half gradually released as part of a carefully monitored humanitarian aid fund.

Hakimi told the news conference the Taliban had purged nearly 4,500 “unwanted people” from its ranks, mostly new recruits who joined in the aftermath of their takeover and were blamed for a spate of crime.

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