Afghanistan's first female army officers graduate

A massive US-funded training programme aims to boost Afghanistan's army and police force so that foreign forces, currently numbering close to 150,000, can begin to withdraw and leave security responsibility to the Afghans.

US President Barack Obama has set a deadline of mid-2011 for American troops to begin drawing down and military commanders in Kabul have said the training programme is pivotal to the transition.

"I always wanted to be a part of the ANA (Afghan National Army) and am so proud to wear this uniform," said 25-year-old Meena Sharifi, one of the 29 women in the graduation ceremony at the Army Training Centre on the outskirts of Kabul.
"I want to defend my country against its enemies," she said.

The women will not be sent to the frontline of the fight against the insurgency, which is raging at its fiercest since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban regime, and instead will largely do administrative work.

Building a credible Afghan army is one of NATO's main tasks in Afghanistan and a pillar of its exit strategy.

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