Afghans plan to double security forces to 400,000

Afghanistan and its allies have agreed to a proposal to more than double the number of Afghan security forces to 400,000, from the current 191,000, within five years.

Afghanistan and its allies have agreed to a proposal to more than double the number of Afghan security forces to 400,000, from the current 191,000, within five years.

The announcement came Wednesday after the meeting of the Joint Co-ordination and Monitoring Board, a panel that includes representatives of Afghanistan's government, officials from the UN and major troop contributing countries — including Canada.

The board's approval means the plan will be presented at a Jan. 28 international conference in London, which aims to bolster support for the Afghan leadership as the U.S. and NATO allies prepare to send an additional 37,000 reinforcements to fight the Taliban.

Afghanistan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said the plan calls for 240,000 Afghan soldiers and 160,000 national police to be ready in three to five years.

Afghanistan has about 97,000 soldiers and 94,000 Afghan police officers.

The Afghan government presented the call for the buildup of security forces to the joint board as part of a plan for confronting the insurgency of Taliban-led militants in the war-torn country.

New plan to lure Taliban fighters

The Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when they were toppled by the U.S. and its allies. They have begun to regain power and influence in many regions of the country and have launched repeated attacks on coalition troops and government workers.

The government also proposed a new tactic to persuade Taliban militants to switch sides and support the government of Hamid Karzai. It includes both money to lure Taliban members off the battlefield and the formation of a Grand Peace Council, to allow for representatives from religious leaders and others to be heard.

"The rank-and-file Taliban are not al-Qaeda, they are our neighbours and cousins. And to achieve peace, we need only remove their reason to fight," the report said.

Another key issue for Afghanistan was how best to monitor and tackle corruption, which has plagued Karzai's government and made it easier for militants to attract new members.

Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, a sharp critic of Karzai, was named as part of the team that will make recommendations at the London conference on dealing with corruption.

A report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released Tuesday found Afghans had paid more than $2.5 billion US in bribes between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2009, or one-quarter the value of the country's gross domestic product.

The report, titled Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as Reported by the Victims, was based on surveys with 7,600 people across the country. It found 50 per cent of Afghans had to pay at least one kickback to a public official, including police.

The average bribe was $160 US.

With files from the Associated Press