As Hamid Karzai meets Tony Blair in London, Christian Aid is backing the Afghan president's repeated calls for a massive expansion of international peacekeeping force. The agency says there is an ideal opportunity for this to happen now that NATO has agreed to take control of the peacekeeping duties in August. Christian Aid says security across Afghanistan is deteriorating by the day, placing the reconstruction of one of the world's poorest countries in jeopardy. Afghan civilians, aid workers and peacekeeping troops are being attacked daily by bandits and militia groups. Recently a Red Cross worker was killed, two Afghan government ministers have been assassinated in the past year and in recent months Christian Aid staff have also been targeted. Afghan officials believe that as many as 2,000 people have been killed this year alone - just in the north of the country - and people are now talking nostalgically about Taliban rule which, however vicious, at least brought relative stability. The current power vacuum is asking to be filled by hardliners. Christian Aid supports the international community's bid to help set up a 70,000-strong professional Afghan army as a means to bring security. At the moment the army numbers less than 4,000 troops while local warlords have private armies of as many as 100,000. "The reconstruction of Afghanistan cannot take place until there is sustainable security," said Robin Greenwood Christian Aid's Regional Manager for Afghanistan. 'And Afghans will not trust the international community and the pledges made after the defeat of the Taliban until serious reconstruction takes place - it's a Catch 22 situation. "The Afghan army is weak and at current rates of recruitment it will take 23 years to reach the 70,000-man target. In the short term, Afghanistan needs an expanded and credible international peacekeeping force to hold the line and to allow reconstruction to take place quickly and safely."
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