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Afghanistan may double police force

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan may double its 82,000-strong police force and will train 15,000 new recruits in time for the presidential election on August 20, the interior minister said on Sunday.

An Afghan policeman keeps watch in downtown Kabul, the day after an attack by Taliban militants February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

More than 70,000 foreign troops are based in Afghanistan fighting a resurgent Taliban, mainly in the south and east.

Military commanders recognize foreign troops can ultimately only buy time before the Afghan army and police force are expanded. The United States is to send 4,000 police trainers to Afghanistan this year.

Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told a news conference Afghan authorities had asked international donors to approve a “strategic increase” in the size of the force.

“Our request was a strategic increase of the numbers of the police in Afghanistan and two: an interim increase until we are able to basically implement the strategic increase,” Atmar said.

“Initially we thought that the Afghanistan police size needs to be doubled in order to meet the requirements,” he said. “We will have to do a deeper study to establish and determine the needs, and the response to the needs.”

The results of the study should be known in June.

Atmar said the international community approved on Sunday a government proposal to recruit and train 15,000 police as an interim measure before the August presidential election.

These new police would help provide security in the most vulnerable provinces and in the capital Kabul, said Atmar.

The United States and Canada have pledged funding for the training, he said, while most of it would be carried out by the new U.S. police trainers.

Violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest levels since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. Some 5,000 people, including more than 2,000 civilians, were killed last year, according to the United Nations.

Before Afghan and U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, Afghanistan’s police force hardly functioned. While progress has been made in developing it, it is widely described as corrupt and lagging behind the more professional army.

In many isolated outposts, police are the only face of the Afghan government and are vulnerable to insurgent attacks, but they are also renowned for milking the populace for bribes.

Editing by Robert Woodward