Eight weeks to face the Taliban

Introduction

In early 2011, the BBC followed four recruits to the Afghan National Army.

When their training is complete Faizullah, Mahmood, Farhad, and Mirajuddin (l-r), will form part of a force which is expected to assume responsibility for security in Afghanistan as foreign troops leave the country over the next few years.

It is a daunting challenge given the strengthening Taliban insurgency and the country's entrenched ethnic divisions.

Recruitment

The Afghan National Army are more respected and liked by Afghans than the police, with some units now able to lead operations, albeit with help from Nato forces.

However, dropout rates are still a major issue, as is a lack of leadership - especially at senior officer level.

Most Afghan soldiers-in-the-making are illiterate, some are drug users and others had links with the Taliban.

The ethnic balance is also a concern. Majority Pashtuns are under represented and so are other people from the insurgency-ridden south.

Life in camp

The recruits spend their initial training at the sprawling Kabul Military Training Centre on the outskirts of the city. Facilities are often better than the recruits are used to at home, with 24 hour electricity, heating, beds and TV.

Learning to fight

An army battalion is known as a kandak, and each consists of about 750 men. The soldiers are supplied with some modern equipment, including body armour, by Nato-led coalition forces but it is not unusual to see them wearing helmets of much older design.

As well as basic weapons skills the men are trained how to run checkpoints, conduct night operations and handle armoured vehicles.

Initially foreign troops were responsible for training, but increasingly the army is performing the role for itself.

Graduation day

With their training over the soldiers find out where they will be deployed.

Some are assigned for further training. But many, including Farhad, will be posted to provinces like Helmand, where some of the fiercest fighting is taking place.

The army is expected to grow by 2,800 soldiers a month to reach a total of 171,600 by October 2011.

Future role

No one doubts that there has been progress in training Afghan troops - but major challenges remain.

Nato's training targets are ambitious.

Even if they are achieved, there are still real questions over how capable the Afghan forces will be when they have to act on their own.

For now, many Afghans and Nato are hoping that the likes of Faizullah, Miraj, Mahmood and Farhad will stay the course and allow the country to take responsibility for securing its own future.

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