KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 350 Afghan soldiers graduated from training with U.S. Special Forces troops Tuesday, vowing to serve their country and not warlords or ethnic groups.
In a ceremony at a military training center in Kabul, the capital, the soldiers marched briskly past President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Mohammed Qassim Fahim.
The event raised hopes that Afghanistan will eventually have a full-fledged army that can ensure stability and end decades of conflict among rival ethnic groups.
"The whole world is watching you," Fahim told the 350 enlisted men and 36 officers of the 1st Battalion, who underwent three months of intensive training. "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 group was 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 beginning of an army that the United Nations says should eventually number about 60,000. Their members currently are far outnumbered by the tens of thousands of fighters in private armies loyal to Afghanistan's warlords.
The ethnic mix of the new soldiers--Pushtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Nuristanis--was seen as a positive sign that Afghans can unite as one country. Mohammed Amon, a Hazara, read aloud a poem celebrating the Afghan culture and reminding his fellow soldiers: "Though we are from different ethnic groups, we come together as brothers. We are all Afghans."