Afghan Warlords: Central Government Should Control New National Army

Military commanders and warlords have agreed that Afghanistan's new national army should be under the control of the central government, a key step in uniting the fractious country, the Defense Ministry said.

Despite the establishment of a transitional government under President Hamid Karzai, real power is still divided among regional warlords who rule the countryside.

Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the U.S. commander of about 11,500 coalition forces deployed in Afghanistan, attended the weekend talks.

The ministry said in a statement that it was the first time "all senior commanders" have met since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

"There was agreement that the future army of Afghanistan must be a national army with units fully representative of the nation, and responsive to a strong central government," the statement said.

Key warlords attending included Herat Gov. Ismail Khan and Kandahar's Gul Agha Sherzai.

The ministry said soldiers and officers should be recruited from all ethnic groups and provinces "to gain the confidence and trust of all people."

Karzai's government hopes to one day replace an estimated 100,000 militiamen loyal to local warlords.

The national army currently has slightly more than 2,000 soldiers. It is expected to grow to at least 70,000 soldiers over the next two years. U.S. and French troops have been training recruits for about a year.