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.


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

    Comment number 56.

    Oh good. Lets free up some troops for an invasion of some other country that we don't really have anything to do with.

    Or is this just part of George's desperate deficit reduction plan?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    We forget that many people in Afghanistan actually prefer the taliban to the corruption, kangarooo courts and ransom kidnappings of Karzai's so called government. Also for many, the strict Islamic rules of the taliban align with their own beliefs.

    We cannot force democracy on everyone just because it works for us. And certainly with Karzai it doesn't work either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    To illustrate how much difference our intervention in Afghanistan has made, conduct this simple experiment:
    1. Take a bucket of water (Afghanistan)
    2. Put your hand in the bucket (Western Intervention)
    3. Remove your hand
    4. Observe what has changed from step 1

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Wouldn't it be wonderful for the Afghans to rule themselves and work towards a peaceful society, ridding the country of terrorism, allowing freedoms for females and education for all without any intervention from foreigh countries?

    Yep, but Utopia isn't going to happen here - sadly the Taliban will continue, terrorism will increase, girls will face a life of slavery and fear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    445 British soldiers lost their lives, for a war we didn't want and to date has still not been won! Let this be a lesson that we should NOT interfere in civil wars, ARE YOU LISTENING MR CAMERON, don't let Syria be another Afghanistan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    And is the problem solved?

    Has the coalition presence rid the region of those groups bent on the destruction of the West?

    WIll it stop another 9/11?

    Has it exacerbated the friction between the West and the hard liners present in the region?

    Will the Afghans cope with their internal security issues?

    No. No. No. Yes. No.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Led by the US we have lost yet another war costing a lot of lives we're slipping out the back door again, because the Taliban will now take control in no time. When will our stupid politicians wake up and see that under US leadership we will always lose, we always have done since 1945. The only wars won since then didn't have one American in it in fact the US was supplying our enemy in one of them

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I wonder how long they will last when NATO forces leave?
    A few months at most I reckon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    We can hand over security but when you have a horrible neighbour like Pakistan who openley allow militants and extremists in its country to train (as well as its secret service who aid terrorists) then i can see the Taliban coming back to haunt the Afghans. It is Pakistan where our UK Jihadists train and where many Taliban recruits are trained. Pakistan is a Pariah state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Call me crazy, but theoretically speaking, what is the difference between what "Nato" did, compared with the Nazi's?. (Minus the Jews)

    The last time I checked Hitler was trying to take over to spread his country's way of thinking, and thinking about that, the last time I checked NATO are doing the same thing.

    Funny how history can repeat itself but have the nerve to think its for the "good".

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    No one can deny that the armed forces did thier best. The next few years are crucial for the afghan forces, whether they can handle the taliban on their own is open to speculation but they have my support for what its worth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I'm sure if the Taliban get too strong Karzai will be able to rely on being able to call in a few air strikes. The Afghan Army may not be the strongest Army in the world or even as strong as the Taliban but I don't think they need to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    It is NOT all over once we leave.

    Today, 5000 redundancy letters are going out to UK military personel.

    At the same time we are funding/paying for this new bigger Afgan military & Police.

    We are paying to maintain Afgan military that is now bigger than ours, while DECIMATING Brit military to DANGEROUS low levels of personel, just like we did before WWII.


  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It didn't work in the days of the Empire, it didn't work for the Russians, it won't have worked this time either.
    Hopefully another hundred years on from now our descendants won't waste their time even trying.
    As the NATO forces leave the "insurgents" will just stroll right back in there. The number of stealth attacks on NATO soldiers by Afghan soldiers proves that beyond doubt.
    Syria next then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Good luck to the Afghan people and the Army, really hope they can bring stability, it won't be easy as the stories are showing but if they want it enough they will get there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    It would be great to think that our involvement in Afghanistan was appreciated by those who want to live a peaceful life in a very troubled nation. Perhaps there will be those who are happy to have had foreign troops intervening against aggressive Taliban and Insurgents, but it is likely that many resent their presence. Let us hope that over the next few years stability and peace will come to them

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Please check out a documentary from a former BBC correspondent on youtube on this subject.

    It is a farce, the troops are stoned, high on heroin, frequently abscond and are taking hostages for money.

    This is a total sham!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Thank goodness, get out quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Remind me again... why did we go in there and lose thousands of men and women?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    It would be nice to think this is going to work, but unfortunately our governments are somewhat deluded in most things today.

    Well done, we spent 12+ years fighting a war WE DO NOT want to be part of, whilst draining the oil fields dry and protecting the opium fields as instructed by the C.I.A (FACT: read it on Wikileaks).

    So yeah, pat yourself on the back for spreading so called "democracy"


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