Afghanistan won't be able to take charge of its own security foradecade or so, Canada's top soldier said Thursday as he called for other countries to step up their support of NATO's mission.


Gen. Rick Hillier talks to reporters in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Thursday. ((Bill Graveland/Canadian Press))

Gen. Rick Hillier's assessment came as Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay meets with his NATO counterparts for the second day of a gathering in the Netherlands largely focused on the mission in Afghanistan.

Afghan soldiers are "top notch," Hillier said, but an Afghan army is necessary before the country can take care of its own security. Training enough troops for that could take years.

"You just don't build that overnight and the international community will have to be involved for some time to see this through to the final level where you've got a government that works effectively," Hillier said at Kandahar Airfield as he wrapped up a three-day visit in the volatile Kandahar province.

Three years are required to train a single battalion, about 500 to 600 troops, and so far training for two battalions of Afghan soldiers has been completed, he said.

"It's going to take 10 years or so just to work through and build an army to whatever the final number that Afghanistan will have, and make them professional and let them meet their security demands here."

Progress praised

Hillierpraised the progress already made in the country, but said increased troops and equipment could speed it up.

"We'd still like to see more ground troops here in Kandahar province from other NATO nations to help us make progress even faster than what we've be doing," he said, as he also called for additional helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In the coastal Dutch town of Noordwijk where NATO countries' defence ministers gathered, officials said late Wednesday that as many as nine nations may be willing to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, with four of them agreeing to send troops to the unstable south.

Further details will not be released until another NATO conference in several weeks.

One issue discussed at the meeting was how NATO countries can better share the financial burden of the mission.

As it stands, countries that send troops or equipment foot all the bills associated with them.

Defence ministers talked about whether countries sending fewer troops orwith soldiersstationed in less dangerous parts of Afghanistan could pay part of thecosts for other countries, said CBC-TV's David Common.

With files from the Canadian Press