The fledgling Afghan army and police have borne the brunt of violence from Taliban insurgents who have regrouped and grown in strength in the last two years after they were swept from power by US-led forces following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
While the United States took on the role of building up the Afghan army, Germany led the training of the police, a role that has now been taken over by the European Union.
Desertions have been rife from both forces and many Afghans accuse the police in particular of being corrupt, ineffective and involved in extortion and robbery.
Major General Robert Durbin lauded the progress made by both forces since he took over command of their training 18 months ago, but said: ''There is still much work to be done.'' Of the 70,000 troops required for the Afghan army, 40,000 had been trained so far and of those, 35,000 were now on duty and of those 20,000 were in combat units, Durbin said.
Desertion was also down from around 30 per cent 18 months ago to 11 per cent now.
The army, he said, was ''good enough, it's just not big enough''.
But at least the army has the equipment it needs. The police force is targeted to number 82,000 officers. ''About 70,000 are in the force right now, but only about 40 percent of those are properly equipped,'' Durbin told a news conference.
BRIBES The problem was money, he said. Until 18 months ago, almost 2 billion dollars had been invested in the Afghan army, but less than 200 million dollars, or one tenth of that sum, had been spent on the police.
''That's a dime for every dollar,'' Durbin said.
Afghan police earn about 70 dollars a month, compared to the 100 dollars a month an army recruit receives and the similar sum the Taliban pays its fighters.
While the police are supposedly in charge of opium poppy eradication, foreign aid workers say they top up their salaries with hundreds of dollars in bribes from farmers and drug smugglers.
Moves afoot to boost police salaries to that of army recruits may have little effect to reduce the temptation to take bribes considering the opium industry is estimated to be worth 3 billion dollars to the Afghan economy, analysts say.
The United States is to supplying the Afghan Air Corps with six helicopter gunships by August and more transport helicopters, some of which will be used by the first Afghan commando units due to finish their training later this month.
The Afghan army and police ''have made tremendous progress,'' Durbin said. ''But the mission is still far from being accomplished.'' Reuters NY RS1928