U.S. handing over weapons as Afghan military struggles

Chris Hawley The Associated Press
Thursday October 17, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — U.S. troops are giving confiscated weapons and ammunition to warlords in Afghanistan, a practice that critics say strengthens private militias and undermines attempts to establish a national army. 

The national army was envisioned as a key to the stability of the fledgling government of President Hamid Karzai, which is under threat from powerful local warlords and wields little influence outside the capital, Kabul. But many of those same warlords are crucial to helping America fight the war on terror. 

“If you have forces that are in contact with the enemy, or subject to being in contact with the enemy, they need to have adequate weapons,” Col. Roger King, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said this week. He added that many of the warlords are nominally aligned with the central government anyway, though not formally part of the fledgling army. 

Every week, U.S. troops combing eastern Afghanistan find huge weapons caches. On Friday, the military uncovered an arsenal in a warehouse in Khost and filled 35 trucks with everything from 120mm rockets to anti-tank guns. 

Militia fighters traveling with U.S. troops got first crack at seized weapons and ammunition, followed by other nearby forces, King said. 

“If there’s something left after that that’s in good condition, then that comes back to the Afghan national army,” he said. Much of the ammunition is in bad condition, he said, and is destroyed by U.S. troops. 

King said he did not know how many weapons had been given to the militias and how many to the national army.