Afghan army at target strength
Kabul -The Afghan army has met a target of 134 000 troops two months ahead of schedule, officials said Wednesday, as the country battles a worsening Taliban-led insurgency.
The army, backed by billions of dollars from the US, is aiming to number 171 000 troops by late next year, but an October deadline for 134 000 has already been met, said defence ministry spokesperson Mohammad Zahir Azimi.
"We are two months ahead of schedule," Azimi told AFP.
Afghanistan, with the help of its Western backers, is trying to rebuild its army and police in a bid to take responsibility for security from US-led Nato forces by 2014.
The Taliban, toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion, still control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance to a surge deploying 150 000 foreign troops as part of a counter-insurgency strategy.
An insurgent attack killed yet another Nato soldier in the south on Wednesday, the coalition force said.
The death brings the overall number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 427, compared to 520 for all of 2009, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by an independent website.
The commander of the US-led Nato force in Afghanistan hailed the army's growth, saying that the rebuilding of Afghan security forces was the "central element" in the coalition's efforts to stabilise the country.
"It is truly remarkable that we are able to congratulate the defence ministry today for achieving their strength goal for October two months ahead of schedule," US General David Petraeus said in a statement.
On Tuesday, President Hamid Karzai's spokesperson said all international and domestic private security firms would be dissolved, partly in a bid to transfer their capacity to the Afghan police and army.
The national police currently numbers 100 000 with an eventual aim of 134 000 personnel.