The Taliban are creating a "grand army" for Afghanistan that will include officers and troops who served the old regime, the official tasked with overseeing the military's transformation said Monday.
Latifullah Hakimi, head of the Taliban's Ranks Clearance Commission, also told a news conference they had repaired half the 81 helicopters and planes supposedly rendered unserviceable by United States-led forces during last year's chaotic withdrawal. He said Taliban forces took control of more than 300,000 light arms, 26,000 heavy weapons and around 61,000 military vehicles during their lightning takeover of the country.
Afghanistan's armed forces disintegrated last summer in the face of a Taliban onslaught ahead of the Aug. 31 U.S.-led force withdrawal – often abandoning their bases and leaving behind all their weapons and vehicles.
The Taliban have promised a general amnesty for everyone linked to the old regime, but almost all senior government and military officials were among the more than 120,000 people who evacuated by air in the final days.
Many of the rank and file remained, however, melting back into civilian life and keeping a low profile for fear of reprisals.
The United Nations said in January more than 100 people linked to the old armed forces have been killed since August. Hakimi insisted, however, that the Taliban amnesty had worked well.
"If it hadn't been issued, we would have witnessed a very bad situation," he said. "The suicide bombers who were chasing a person to target him, are now the same suicide bombers protecting him," he added.
There has been little evidence the Taliban have absorbed former troops into their ranks, but over the weekend they named two senior ex-Afghan National Army officers to top posts in the defense ministry. Both are specialist surgeons attached to the country's main military hospital.
"Our work on the formation of an army is going on," Hakimi said. "Professionals, including pilots and engineers, service persons, logistical and administrative staff (from the previous regime) are in their places in the security sector," he added.
Hakimi said they would form "a grand army ... according to the country's needs and the national interests," although he did not specify a size. He said the army would only be one that the country could afford.
Afghanistan is, however, effectively bankrupt, with the country's $7 billion in overseas assets seized by the U.S.
Washington said half will be reserved for a fund to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and half gradually released as part of a carefully monitored humanitarian aid fund.
Hakimi told the news conference the Taliban had purged nearly 4,500 "unwanted people" from its ranks – mostly new recruits who joined in the aftermath of their takeover and were blamed for a spate of crime.