BRUSSELS  - Nearly 5,000 former Afghan insurgents have given up their weapons and more are joining a reintegration programme, but it has not dented the overall Taliban force, a Nato general said Monday.

The number of former fighters in the Afghan peace and reintegration programme has grown from around 4,000 in late 2011 to 4,946 today, said Major General David Hook, who leads the Nato cell assisting the Afghan-led effort. Another 600 are being vetted to determine whether they qualify to join the programme, which began in October 2010 and offers a stipend of $360 over three months to ease fighters out of the battlefield, Hook said. “The figures continue to trend very gently up,” the British officer told reporters during a visit to Nato headquarters in Brussels. The programme has had great success in the north and west of the country, allowing Afghan security forces to focus on fighting in Taliban hotbeds elsewhere, he said. “Has it made a dent in terms of a nationwide perspective? Probably not,” Hook said, refusing to provide estimates of the overall Taliban force.

The number of people joining the programme grew by 60 per cent between November 2011 and March 2012 compared to any other four-month period, he said. In the east alone, the number jumped 300 per cent.

“Is it having an effect across the whole of Afghanistan in what I would think of in military and strategic terms? No. Is it having an operational-level effect, yes it is,” Hook said. “In the north and west, where integration has been its most successful, we now have latitude to have a discussion with the Afghans about the Afghans moving battalions down to Helmand (province),” the general added.