Afghans take nationwide security lead from Nato

 
New soldiers of Afghan National Army attend graduation ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan. 15 June 2013 The Afghan army has been growing in size and capability

Nato has handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan for the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

At a ceremony in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai said that from Wednesday "our own security and military forces will lead all the security activities".

Observers say the best soldiers in the Afghan army are up to the task but there are lingering doubts about some.

International troops will remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, providing military back-up when needed.

The ceremony came shortly after a suicide bomb attack in western Kabul killed three employees of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and wounded more than 20.

President Hamid Karzai: "For the people of Afghanistan this is a great day"

The attacker was believed to be targeting the convoy of prominent politician and Hazara leader Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, who escaped with light injuries.

Meanwhile, sources close to Taliban representatives have confirmed to the BBC that they are opening an office in the Qatari capital Doha, possibly as early as Tuesday. It is seen as an important stage in establishing a political face for the movement.

The Taliban has in the past refused talks with Mr Karzai's government, calling it a puppet of the US. But the Afghan president said on Tuesday he is sending representatives to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the movement.

President Karzai has been outspoken about his upset at previous US and Qatari efforts to kick-start the peace process without properly consulting his government, the BBC's Bilal Sarwary reports from Kabul.

There is also concern within the presidential palace that the Taliban will use the political office in Qatar to raise funds, our correspondent adds.

'Remarkable resolve'

Tuesday's ceremony saw the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) hand over control of the last 95 districts in a transition process that began in 2011.

The last remaining districts included 13 in Kandahar province - the birthplace of the Taliban - and 12 each in Nangarhar, Khost and Paktika, all bastions of insurgent activity along the border with Pakistan.

Analysis

There are still 97,000 international troops in Afghanistan as part of the Nato-led mission but those numbers are reducing as the day for the end of combat operations comes closer.

The forces are increasingly engaged in the complex business of closing bases and packing kit; very few now go out on patrol.

The practical effect of today's event is not great - a handful of districts, mainly along the eastern frontier, and in Kandahar, move formally to full Afghan combat lead.

But the symbolic impact is profound. For the first time since the departure of Soviet forces in 1989 and the years of civil war that followed, security across the whole of Afghanistan is now the responsibility of forces led by the Afghan government.

Between now and the final exit of international combat troops at the end of next year, they will support combat operations only when requested. Alongside training the only other assistance is helicopters to take out casualties. The Afghan forces remain inconsistent, but those who train them say the best are as good as any army in a developing country.

President Karzai called it an historic day and a moment of personal pride.

"This has been one of my greatest desires and pursuits," he said, "and I am glad that I, as an Afghan citizen and an Afghan president, have reached this objective today."

He reiterated a shift in military strategy, ruling out the future use of air strikes on what he called Afghan homes and villages; the issue of Nato air strikes and civilian casualties has long been a sensitive one.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghan forces were taking up the role with "remarkable resolve" but said there was still 18 months of hard work ahead for Isaf troops.

"We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations if needed, but we will no longer plan, execute or lead those operations, and by the end of 2014 our combat mission will be completed," he said.

Some Afghans who spoke to the BBC said security had improved in their areas after foreign troops left.

"Now that the foreigners are gone, the security situation in the city and in the districts is much better," said one man from Kandahar.

Another man, from Surkhroad district in eastern Nangarhar province, was less sure.

"In the past when foreign forces were present in Surkhroad the security was fine," he said.

"Now that the security responsibilities are being handed over to the Afghan forces, the security situation is currently ok, but there are some insurgents who are still firing from the eastern mountain areas."

'Good enough'

The number of Afghan security forces has been gradually increasing from fewer than 40,000 six years ago to nearly 350,000 today.

However, as it has taken over more responsibility for security, the Afghan army has suffered a sharp rise in casualties.

By comparison, international coalition casualties have been steadily falling since 2010.

A high desertion rate among Afghan forces has also meant that thousands of new recruits are needed each month to fill its ranks.

Despite the challenges, Isaf commander General Joseph Dunford recently told the BBC that the Afghan force is "getting good enough" to fulfil its role.

In recent Taliban attacks on the capital Kabul, Afghan rapid reaction police tackled the insurgents without having to call in Isaf forces.

The number of Isaf forces in Afghanistan peaked in 2011 at about 140,000, which included about 101,000 US troops.

Isaf currently has about 97,000 troops in the country from 50 contributing nations, the bulk of whom - some 68,000 - are from the US.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition had been "tough"

By the end of 2014 all combat troops should have left to be replaced - if approved by the Afghan government - by a smaller force that will only train and advise.

The pressure on contributing nations to withdraw their troops has been exacerbated by a series of "green-on-blue" attacks in which members of the Afghan security forces have killed coalition troops.

At least 60 Nato personnel died in such attacks in 2012. Many more Afghan security force members have died at the hands of their colleagues, in so-called "green-on-green" attacks.

US President Barack Obama has not yet said how many troops he will leave in Afghanistan along with other Nato forces at the end of 2014.

Washington has said that the Afghan government will get the weapons it needs to fight the insurgency including a fleet of MI-17 transport helicopters, cargo planes and ground support airplanes.

Afghan army chief Gen Sher Muhammad Karimi said air capability was a key challenge.

"We are limited in air transportation and in some places we still need Isaf to help us. Other than that we are fully capable of doing our job," he told BBC Pashto.

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  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 16.

    So we are leaving Afghanistan to and getting ready to invade Syria? Disgusting war-loving American foreign policy and we are just forced to send our soldiers to these inhumane and bloody illegal invasions

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 15.

    This should be interesting!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 14.

    Wear your poppy with pride.

    All those sons and daughters dying for a just cause.
    The opium trade...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    The invasion of Afghanistan was based on a lie. Bin Laden wasn't in Afghanistan, he was in Pakistan all along. George Bush should apologise for needlessly sending thousands of troops there, many of whom died in this unnecessary conflict.
    Still, fair play to Obama for capturing and killing Osama.

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 12.

    We really do have some naïve, deluded individuals leading our countries in the West if they think for one minute they have achieved any long lasting changes in Afghanistan. The insurgent's will be just biding their time until the last peacekeeper has left.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 11.

    Should read NATO admits defeat. We have every shrinking, ever ill equipped and ever ill backed armies - 80,000 in the UK and not allowed to fire a gun as the bullet costs too much. NATO have admitted it can't and won't win because it doesn't have the guts or backbone to do the job properly so it backs out, hands over 'security' knowing that in 2 weeks the Taliban/alQueda will be in charge again.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 10.

    The corruption starts with Karzai and his buddies so it shouldn't be too long before the Afghan army descends into corruption or indiffernce or, sells off their weapons to the terrorists.

    A total waste of British lives and British taxes. The only ones who benefitted were Karzai, his buddies and weapons manufacturers.

    Oh well, Syria next and another debacle.

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 9.

    Any bets on how long before the Taliban are back running the country?
    Let's face it, they ain't going away any time soon.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 8.

    In the prevailing situation, I felt that Afghan army is not capable of handling the security on its own. The suicide attack is the prove that. While it is a must to have the forces self-reliable, the step taken to modernize the army is indeed a welcome move. They must have modern equipment and tactics to counter the increasing threats to its security.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 7.

    If the rapidly increasing deaths the Afghan army is suffering is anything to go on it suggests they ARE fighting & fighting hard, not hiding in barracks like certain NATO member forces. In 2012 they've taken twice the casualties in one year we suffered in ten. Flip side of these high casualty rates is that it suggests they're fighting hard but so are the Taliban.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 6.

    1. rifak666

    I agree.
    When it all goes wrong they'll want UK asylum too, like the interpreters ...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 5.

    A milestone, but the true test will be after 2014 when the vast majority of ISAF forces will have departed. Their training has been good, so all we can hope is that corruption and attacks from the inside do not inflict fatal damage.

  • rate this
    +46

    Comment number 4.

    So we are not quite back to square one; we have not passed 'Go', not collected £ 200, and thousands of deaths later we are poised to go away. What has it all been for? The regime is still corrupt, the insurgents are undefeated, and so much blood has been shed. The sooner we stop participating in US foreign policy blunders, the better. I predict more agony for Afghanistan, no peace and no future.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 3.

    well, judging from all the films we've seen on their capabilities, can't see anything going wrong there

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 2.

    Just as long as our boys and girls are far far away and not at risk of any further attacks from within

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1.

    I dont like to say this but I'll give the place 18 months before the Taliban take back control, they have what we don't at that's ideology and time, once we bug out the place will collapse, The Afghan government like so many others in the past only control Kabul and very little else outside the city gates.

 

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