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In Afghan Spring, Violence Rises — But So Do Recruiting Numbers


Last year, for the first time, Afghan forces took charge of their country's security. They generally held their ground but suffered record casualties. Despite that, NPR's Sean Carberry reports plenty of men are lining up to join the army.


SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: For many young Afghans, the process begins here, at the gate outside a recruiting center like this one in the Darul Aman section of Kabul. Here, two rather young looking men are being patted down as they seek to enter and begin the enlistment process.

ATIQULLAH: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: That's Atiqullah who, like many Afghans provides only one name, is from Kapisa Province, a little north of Kabul.

ATIQULLAH: (Through translator) Since I was a child it's been my dream to be a soldier. And I've just graduated from high school. So it's time for me to serve my country.

CARBERRY: He says that last year's record level of casualties among Afghan forces doesn't worry him at all.

ATIQULLAH: (Through translator) Whatever God wants, it will happen. You can die anywhere. So if I go and serve and die, it will be a source of pride.

CARBERRY: With him is Salamuddin, another recent high school graduate also from Kapisa.

SALAMUDDIN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: He, too, says he wants to serve his country. But he has another motive that's common among enlistees around the world: money.

SALAMUDDIN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: It's a good opportunity to earn a salary so I can look after my family, he says.

The two head inside past giant concrete blast walls and into the dank lobby of the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: A soldier sitting at a rickety table gives them each a form. He explains they must have it signed by a village elder and two references who are public servants. When they return in a few days, they'll be informed when they will be transported to the national recruiting center in Kabul.

That center sits here on the outskirts of the city. About a hundred young men with shaved heads, though still in civilian clothes, are squatting outside the dining hall. These potential recruits have been at the center for a few days. Based on past numbers, about 20 percent will be rejected for failing to pass medical or educational standards. The rest will head off to four months of basic training.

BEHROZ YUSUFI: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Twenty-three-year old Behroz Yusufi, from western Herat Province, had been living in Iran and came back to serve the country.

YUSUFI: (Through translator) This country needs more of us to work for a better future. I decided to join the army because it's the least corrupt of the security institutions.

CARBERRY: He's hoping to become a commando because he says they are doing a good job.

At 33-years old, Abdul from northern Takhar Province is one of the older recruits. He joined essentially out of peer pressure.

ABDUL: (Through translator) I'd been working in Iran and came back to work as a driver and a farmer. But my friends encouraged me to join the army. So that's the main reason I'm here.

CARBERRY: And despite the surge in casualties last year, a lot of people want to be here, says Colonel Karimullah Sayedkhil, the commander of the recruiting center.

COLONEL KARIMULLAH SAYEDKHIL: (Through translator) The number of the people who are interested has increased.

CARBERRY: And, because of gradual reductions in the army's incredibly high attrition rates, Sayedkhil says recruiting needs have dropped. He says that's allowing the army to be more selective and focus on recruiting more high school graduates. And that's more and more necessary as NATO troops continue to draw down leaving the Afghans to the fight.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sean Carberry is NPR's international correspondent based in Kabul. His work can be heard on all of NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.