KABUL - Until a few weeks ago, Mohammed Naweid was a tailor, but now his days are filled with drill parade and marching practice after he won a prized place among the first students at Afghanistan's new army officer training academy.
About 270 young men were selected from 10,000 applicants to join the course, which will knock raw recruits into military leaders as the Afghan army takes over the burden of fighting Taliban insurgents from the departing US-led NATO coalition.
The academy, set in hilly countryside outside Kabul, is overseen by British forces and is loosely modelled on Sandhurst, the renowned British officer training school whose illustrious alumni include princes William and Harry.
"Already the training is tough, but I am finding the life here is good," Naweid, 21, told AFP on the fifth day of the gruelling 42-week course.
"After going through all the selection tests, I didn't think I had made it. So when I heard I had a place, I was so proud. I am determined to do well."
The Afghan army has been built from scratch since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and it has struggled with high casualty rates, "insider attack" killings, mass desertions and equipment shortages.
But the keen young cadets at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy dismiss any suggestion that they face impossible conditions and poor morale among the men whom they will lead into battle.
"We are ready to take whatever challenges are coming at us," said Naweid, from the northern province of Faryab. "There are casualties and I know that we have to be prepared to make sacrifices ourselves."
The Kabul government does not release figures, but close to 400 Afghan soldiers and police are killed every month according to the US Department of Defense.
British military officials say the academy will produce the properly trained officers needed to ensure casualty rates are cut, offensive operations are professionally planned and the army is able to impose nationwide stability.