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Canadians see Afghan army progress, support needed

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Afghan troops battling in the Taliban heartland are improving but are not “impressive” and still need logistical support from NATO-led forces, a senior Canadian officer said.

The ability of Afghan troops to fight on their own is crucial to NATO’s goal of handing over control of security by the end of 2014, and will be a crucial focus when U.S. President Barack Obama reviews his Afghanistan war strategy next month.

Two of the four 500-man Afghan army battalions Canadian and U.S. forces are paired with in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, the Taliban’s spiritual home, can now operate on their own “for several hours,” the Canadian officer said.

“Two battalions are very well trained and they have achieved a level of capability that is quite surprising,” the officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters in a briefing late on Wednesday.

“I won’t say they are impressive, but they are pretty good. They are anything but gun-shy,” he said.

However, they still lack critical logistical support such as fast evacuation of wounded from the battlefield, the officer said.

Better Afghan forces and the arrival of more U.S. troops as part of 30,000-troop “surge” ordered by Obama last year have helped the coalition make inroads into Taliban strongholds around the key southern city of Kandahar, the officer said.

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