Race To Get The Afghan Army Battle-Ready

Fortunately, graduation day for recruits at Kabul's Army Training Academy is still a few weeks away, as their marching needs a little work. But, as CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, precision on the parade ground is less important than precision on the battlefield.

To fight the Taliban alongside the U.S. Army, the Afghan soldiers will need to know how to read maps and how to use modern weapons with discipline and accuracy.

The recruits get intensive, but very basic training. It only lasts 10 weeks - because everyone's in a hurry.

The U.S. and Afghan governments believe they will have to double the size of the Army before they're in any position to provide security for the country. But a bigger army is not necessarily a more committed one.

Some of the recruits have fought with the Taliban in the past, but have decided regular soldiering pays better, up to $200 a month.

Others have personal scores to settle.

"Some are actually here because the Taliban have killed their families, and continue to terrorize their villages, and they're here to seek retribution," says 1st Sgt. Ralph Parsons.

In parts of Afghanistan where there aren't yet enough soldiers, the police are on the front lines.

But, as a recent insurgent video showing rebels driving away in captured police trucks indicates, the Taliban often win in clashes with local cops.

Afghanistan's Army - better trained and equipped - will soon take the lead across the country in providing security.

Col. Sabour, who, like many Afghans, has only one name, reminded his recruits who - and why - they're fighting.

"Today, our enemy throws acid on girls and burns down schools," he says. "Your duty is to defend the people and the nation."

Most of the young soldiers take the mission very seriously.

"I am here," says Khanjar Beg, "to get rid of al Qaeda and all the insurgent groups."

"The hardest part of the job," notes Rasul Dat, "will be rebuilding the country."

It's a task that that will take every ounce of energy and enthusiasm the young men can muster, Palmer reports.
By Elizabeth Palmer
  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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