WASHINGTON – The U.S. military will provide the Afghan army with U.S.-made M-16 rifles as part of an effort to make up for a shortage of small arms power among Afghan security forces, FOX News learned Tuesday.
Officials in the Pentagon say the move is part of a continuing effort to ensure these forces are adequately equipped to do their mission. That mission has been to been fight a steadily increasing Taliban resistance and influx of foreign fighters, a trend that Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged during his visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Typically, Afghan soldiers carry the notorious Russian modeled Kalashnikov, or AK-47, an assault rifle known for its durability and reliable shooting. After the Cold War ended, the market was flooded with AK-47s and it soon became the insurgents' weapon of choice. They were cheap, easy to maintain and had a reputation for working in even the harshest conditions, including the dry and dusty regions common to Afghanistan.
But now the Afghans are seeing a spike in overall violence and attacks, and they need more weapons for the fight.
According to Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, who spoke with reporters traveling with Gates, the U.S. is poised to deliver as many as 60,000 M-16s at a rate of 10,000 a month. The weapons will be provided at no cost to the Afghan government.
As it stands a delivery of 60,000 rifles would surpass the current force level of the Afghan army, which is now at 57,000 troops. However, the Afghan military has a stated a goal of 70,000 Army troops by March 2008. Afghanistan's defense ministry announced Tuesday that in order to stand against external threats and the Taliban insurgency the army will need to reach a total force of 200,000 men.
Others in the Pentagon say now is the time for the U.S. to take control in a fashion similar to the surge in Iraq. Marine commandant Gen. James Conway recommends sending 25,000 Marines into Afghanistan with hopes they can use the counterinsurgency lessons learned in the Anbar provinces of Iraq. That plan, first proposed in early November, has so far not been approved by Gates.