U.S.-trained Afghan soldiers graduate

KABUL, Afghanistan -- More than 350 Afghan soldiers trained by the U.S. military marched briskly past President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim on Tuesday in a graduation ceremony, raising hopes that the country will eventually have a full-fledged army that can ensure stability.

"The whole world is watching you," Fahim told the 350 enlisted men and 36 officers of the 1st Battalion. "All the people are hopeful of this national army, which should be trusted by all the people. It is a great day for all the Afghan people."

The graduation was held at the Kabul Military Training Center, where the bombed-out buildings had to be rebuilt before training could begin. American and Afghan troops watched the ceremony from broken balconies that still showed signs of war.

The Afghans were trained by soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. A second similar-sized group is being trained by the French army.

These groups are the small beginning of an army that the United Nations says should eventually number about 60,000. They currently are far outnumbered by the tens of thousands of fighters in the armies loyal to Afghanistan's regional warlords.

The importance of a well-trained regular army to Afghanistan's long-term stability was underlined this week by the decision to bring in U.S. soldiers to guard the presidential palace in the wake of rising security concerns raised by the assassination this month of Vice President Abdul Qadir.