The Afghan army is struggling with old weaponry, low pay and desertions, yet performs better than the troubled Iraqi army and could defend Afghanistan without US and NATO support in five to 10 years time, military officials and analysts say.
The fledgling force's success is viewed as critical to the Western-backed mission of stabilizing Afghanistan, which faced a record number of insurgent attacks last year. Renewed violence expected this spring threatens President Hamid Karzai's government.
"We don't like that international forces suffer here. We think it's a disgrace to us that sons of a faraway land come and shed their blood on our soil," Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said. "Our intention is that we ourselves take on the physical security and international forces take a supporting and mentoring role."