At its meeting today in Kabul, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) – the body set up in 2006 to monitor implementation of the five-year blueprint for reconstruction known as the Afghanistan Compact – agreed to increase the strength of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to 134,000 personnel.“This increase is a huge step towards ensuring the Afghan Government has the number of soldiers it needs and that it can gradually take over the responsibility for the security of the country,” said Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and co-chair of the JCMB. “We all know that ensuring security for all Afghans is of paramount importance,” added Mr. Eide, who is also head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).The Board, which consists of senior Afghan ministers and representatives of the international community, also endorsed a proposed Afghanistan Social Outreach Programme, which aims to empower local communities. Reports were also presented on the status of preparations for elections and on the new anti-corruption body, the High Office of Oversight. In addition, participants were briefed on the humanitarian and refugee situations, hearing renewed calls to support a $404 million appeal launched in July to help some 4.5 million Afghans who are struggling as a result of rising food prices, poor harvests and drought. The Board also welcomed the proposal presented by the Afghan Government to set up a mechanism to support the implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), the five-year plan to reduce poverty and promote economic and social development that was unveiled at a Paris conference in June.At the Paris conference, dozens of countries and international organizations pledged resources to help Afghanistan rebuild and advance peace, security and development.“There is now a real sense of urgency to build on the commitments and progress that were made at the Paris conference. This is a testing period for us all, but we all remain committed to implementing the commitments made – such as improved aid effectiveness and a more intensive fight against corruption,” Mr. Eide said. 10 September 2008The top United Nations official in Afghanistan has welcomed a decision to expand the country’s national army, calling it an important step as the Government works towards assuming responsibility for security across the strife-torn nation.