The paper, titled Australia Afghanistan Community Resilience Scheme, proposes funding be divided among five experienced NGOs and would seek to assist the ”poorest and most marginalised people” while at the same time hoping to improve broader agricultural productivity.

AusAID declined to confirm whether any of the concepts outlined in the paper had been adopted. A spokeswoman said the paper was only a preliminary document and still under consideration.

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Aid experts who viewed the paper for the Herald had mixed opinions. One believed it signalled an intention by the government to maintain influence in the country if troops were withdrawn.

The concept paper, which has been circulating among the aid community this year, suggests a competitive grants process for several eligible NGOs to get funding over four years and a focus on agriculture and rural development, an area which it noted AusAID needed to improve focus on.

James Goodman, from the aid monitoring group Aid/Watch, said the proposal seemed to be a departure from previous aid funding. ”It is interesting that these organisations [local NGOs] would have a potentially political role in Afghanistan, which is a good thing in most contexts,” he said.

Dr Goodman said the four-year life of the proposed program seemed to suggest the government would be seeking to maintain influence in the country if troops were withdrawn in the next couple of years.

Australian troops fighting in Oruzgan will stop fighting and start training as soon as early next year. The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, told Parliament yesterday that some Afghan troops would be able to run independent operations later this year.

However, Mr Smith’s remarks, in an update on the war in Afghanistan, stand in stark contrast to recent comments of a whistleblowing US soldier who has defied his seniors and told of a losing war being fought against the Taliban.

”Australia’s goal is to prevent Afghanistan from again being used by terrorists to plan and train for attacks on innocent civilians, including Australians in our own region and beyond,” Mr Smith said.

He also confirmed that Oruzgan would possibly be one of the provinces that changes to local control over the next 12 to 18 months, meaning Australia’s main combat role could end as early as next February.

Aside from providing security, Australia is also training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan army, based in Oruzgan. The brigade is divided into several battalions, known as Kandaks.

”The 4th Brigade is increasingly assuming the lead for the planning, preparation and execution of tactical operations … with a number of infantry Kandaks now expected to be capable of conducting independent operations during 2012,” Mr Smith said.

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