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Afghan Army Volunteer Center Opens in Old Terrorist Camp

By Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KHOWST, Afghanistan, Dec. 22, 2004 – To borrow from a Bob Dylan song from the 1960s, "the times they are a-changing."

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Members of the Afghan national police honor guard stand by for the raising of the Afghan flag at the conclusion of the ceremony. Army photo

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Khowst, Afghanistan, was once the location of an al Qaeda training camp bombed by the U.S. military in 1998 and again in 2001. Now it is home to the newest Afghan National Army Volunteer Center.

The volunteer center opening Dec. 12 marks the 23rd to open in Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army Recruiting Command has scheduled such centers to open in all 34 provinces in the country, with an additional one planned for the capital of Kabul.

Several ANA officers, coalition leaders, and local elders and mullahs attended the opening ceremony for the new NAVC.

Maj. Gen Aziz Rahman, commander of the ANA Recruiting Command, commended those gathered. "You fought communism and terrorism bravely, but that was a time for war," he said. "Now everything has changed, and it is time for peace."

ANA Lt. Gen. Shir Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the General Staff, echoed Aziz's sentiments. "This is a historical moment for the Khowst province," said Karimi. "I congratulate the valor of the people of Khowst."

The Bonn Agreement, signed on Dec. 5, 2001, established the guidelines for the ANA, including the ethnic makeup of the army. Several of the keynote speakers at the volunteer center opening mentioned that ethnic diversity.

"The ANA is the sign of national unity, because it does not belong to one specific ethnic group or province; it is the army of Afghanistan," said Aziz.

"Essential to creating this security is your Afghan National Army, an army made up of all the peoples of Afghanistan serving all of the peoples of Afghanistan," added U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Richard Moorhead, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix. JTF Phoenix has the responsibility of training the new ANA soldiers.

The speakers also spoke of rebuilding Afghanistan and the ANA's role in that rebuilding.

"We have had many changes in the last 50 years," said Karimi. "It is a good opportunity for the Afghan people that the international community is rushing to render help for (rebuilding) Afghanistan."

"An important part of this rebuilding is the security and stability that give the Afghan people and the international community the freedom to rebuild," said Moorhead. "The young men of Khowst will be proud to join this army so they, too, can contribute to providing peace, stability and the rebuilding of Afghanistan."

The recruiting centers house new recruits until their 10-week training begins at the Kabul Military Training Center. New recruits train and graduate together as a kandak, or battalion, and then are assigned to one of the regional commands in Afghanistan.

Aziz closed the ceremony by challenging the audience.

"In order to maintain peace and security for the country and for the Afghan nation, we need a professional and loyal army," he said. "It is the responsibility of the mullahs, clergymen and elders of the families to encourage their sons and convince the youth to join the ANA and serve their nation."

(Army Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson is assigned to the Office of Military Cooperation Afghanistan.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA local mullah says a prayer at the grand opening of the new National Army Volunteer Center in Khowst, Afghanistan. Army photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Army Brig. Gen. Richard Moorhead (left), commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, and Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Ahmad Zai, ANA Recruiting Command chief of staff, are greeted by local residents of Khowst upon arrival at the National Army Volunteer Center. Army photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAttendees at the National Army Volunteer Center grand opening in Khowst, Afghanistan, perform a ceremonial dance at the conclusion of the day's activities. Army photo  
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