June 8, 2018 / 11:05 AM / 3 months ago

UAE to boost troop presence in Afghanistan for training: officials

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has accepted an offer from the United Arab Emirates to boost its presence in training Afghan forces fighting Islamist insurgents, senior government officials said, as Kabul seeks to improve ties with majority-Muslim nations.

Some 200 UAE soldiers have been stationed in Afghanistan as support staff for more than 10 years, officials involved in security enforcement in Afghanistan told Reuters.

Under the new agreement, UAE troops will train recruits enlisted by the Afghan elite forces and can also be called upon to take part in specific operations targeting the insurgents, a senior Afghan official managing the arrival of UAE troops said in Kabul.

A second government official said 60 more soldiers would arrive in Afghanistan in July and be based at NATO headquarters. The UAE Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes, aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table under the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge swaths of the country and, with foreign troop levels at about 15,600 compared with 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright military victory.

The Taliban are seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law following their ouster in 2001 at the hands of U.S.-led troops. Afghanistan also faces insurgencies led by Islamic State and the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.

Several NATO member countries have also agreed to increase their forces as part of Resolute Support.

The presidential office and National Security Council said they could not comment on the UAE move but a diplomat said the reinforcements come at a time when President Ashraf Ghani has made a concerted effort to improve ties with Islamic nations.

An explosion in southern Kandahar province last year, blamed by security forces on the Taliban, killed five UAE diplomats. The Taliban denied involvement.

“The UAE troops have been here ever since the beginning of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation but are now being reactivated and reinforced,” a senior government source with knowledge of the operation told Reuters.

“There are about 200, more will be joining soon and they will be here for training and support. They will go into the field only if necessary.”

NATO-led ISAF was launched in 2001 and wound up operations in Afghanistan in 2014.

Reporting by Qadir Sediqi, Hamid Shalizi and Rupam Jain; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Neil Fullick

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