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Afghan graduates first post-Taliban army officers

Afghanistan graduated its first military officers in more than a decade from an elite academy modelled on West Point in the United States, in a major step in building a post-Taliban army.

world Updated: Jan 25, 2009 22:28 IST

Afghanistan graduated on Sunday its first military officers in more than a decade from an elite academy modelled on West Point in the United States, in a major step in building a post-Taliban army.

President Hamid Karzai presented the 84 new second lieutenants with the university-level certificates, lauding them as the "new hope" in a country battered by 30 years of war and dependent on foreign troops for its security.

"This is an extremely important step towards a peaceful and self-reliant Afghanistan," he told the soldiers, who completed four years of study that included contributions from West Point and its British equivalent, Sandhurst.

After the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s, the Afghan army -- built under the Soviet occupation -- had 400 military aircraft and nearly 4,000 tanks and armoured carriers, Karzai said.

There were also at least 200,000 soldiers, although Karzai did not give a number.

But the civil war that followed shredded the armed forces and they remained in tatters under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime that harboured Al-Qaeda.

A US-led invasion in 2001 removed the Taliban, after which several nations joined to help build new Afghan forces, sending their troops to the country to fight an extremist insurgency until the Afghans could take over.

The top international military commander in Afghanistan, US General David McKiernan, told the young graduates that they could count on international help in the battle against the Taliban-led insurgency.