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
    0

    Comment number 296.

    Giving notice, and letting the Taliban know when NATO will leave amounts to surrender before the fact. It will be impossible for NATO, or the US to stem off the Taliban if they are not in Afghanistan. It is as if NATO wants to just cut and leave. The proper word is surrender. Now that the Taliban knows when NATO is leaving they can just add more and more terror. The situation is doomed to failure

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 295.

    288 Peter

    "The longest period of peace in Afghanistan has been under British rule"

    What, three bloody wars in under 80 years with thousands slaughtered and you call that 'a period of peace'?

    I'm not surprised the Afghans don't want any more foreigners in their country or attempting to run their affairs. We are all still paying the price for meddling by former empire builders.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 294.

    Hopefully the Afghan security forces can muster up to the job. I and a lot of people have serious reservations. Like Vietnam, Afghanistan will fall very quickly to the Taliban after NATO leaves. After seeing the chart on the number of deaths inflicted on the Afghan forces it is apparent that they can't possibly hold the Taliban off after NATO forces depart. This is basically surrender!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 293.

    Off they go! But how will Afghanistan now negotiate the highly profitable but highly illegal poppy/opium trade, of which the Taliban could have such a dominant interest in?

    Oh, yes, poppy/opium brings in lots of money, the sort of money that it takes to buy weapons and ammunition, etc.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 292.

    Get our troops out of Afghanistan now!
    No more foreign wars unless Britain is attacked.
    No arming of "good" or "bad" rebels.
    No meddling in religious and racial conflicts.
    No more attempts at "regime change"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 291.

    The U.S just lost the war....

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 290.

    The country will return to being a tribal ultra Islamist state the minute international troops pull out. No more work or.education for females. We (international community)have achieved zilch. The country is still as corrupt as when we went in. Poppy production is around the same. A complete disaster which we should not have got involved in - Blair has a lot to answer for.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 289.

    Where there's a will there's a war.
    Lets just GET OUT and STAY OUT, the uk has no place playing US sidekick.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 288.

    'Gen Petraeus stated that the Taliban are the greatest fighting army he has come up against'.
    Given that the first time he was in a combat zone was in Iraq as a Major General I don't think this statement has any credibility.
    The longest period of peace in Afghanistan has been under British rule, and, yes, we did beat them twice in the 2nd and 3rd Afghan Wars the ONLY army to have ever done that.

  • Comment number 287.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 286.

    284. noreply
    We r staying until the end of 2014 for god knows what reason. After that tribal warfare can resume similar to the last couple of thousand years.
    ----------------------
    No they had a civilisation their at a particular point in time. However, the devastating expeditions of the Mighty Mongols, the Great British thrice, the Soviet Superpower and now the USA/NATO/European armies ruined it.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 285.

    267.maxmerit
    Gen Petraeus stated that the Taliban are the greatest fighting army he has come up against. Tremendous effort an committment by the Taliban who hav effectively won this war.
    WORTHY POINT. The poorest on planet earth scoring a victory against the greatest an most sophisticated military alliance the world has known. Got 2 put it in perspective. Is there such a thing as Divine Justice!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 284.

    We are staying until the end of 2014 for god knows what reason. After that tribal warfare can resume similar to the last couple of thousand years.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 283.

    Will this bring peace and stability to the Afghan people? Only time will tell.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 282.

    Beards and improved women's right all round, then. The Taliban will be partying tonight.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 281.

    Great bring all ours home tomorrow, and leave them to it, no more involvement in this hell hole, Good bye ,Good Riddance

  • Comment number 280.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 279.

    What a tragic shambles. Lets hope they can be left alone to all get round the table and sort out a future but I am not hopeful of either

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 278.

    A war we never wanted for a cause that wasn't our own and a result that has left us looking stupid and paranoid.

    This is Blair's legacy. I hope Cameron doesn't make the same mistake with Syria but I won't hold my breath.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 277.

    As the last troop's last foot leaves the gound the taliban will scurry out of their little bolt holes and resume their ways. Wasted money on an illegal war.

 

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