Afghan Troops Take Security Lead 06/18 07:28
Afghan forces have taken over the lead from the U.S.-led NATO coalition for
security nationwide, President Hamid Karzai announced Tuesday in a significant
milestone in the 12-year war.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan forces have taken over the lead from the
U.S.-led NATO coalition for security nationwide, President Hamid Karzai
announced Tuesday in a significant milestone in the 12-year war.
The announcement came amid a grim reminder of Afghanistan's daily violence.
A few miles from where Karzai was speaking a bomb targeted a prominent
lawmaker, missed him but killed three civilians.
In another key announcement, Karzai said he will soon send representatives
to the Gulf state of Qatar to discuss peace with the Taliban. The talks in Doha
would follow the planned opening of a Taliban political office in the Arab
The handover of responsibility marks a turning point for American and NATO
military forces, which will now move entirely into a supporting role. It also
opens the way for their full withdrawal in 18 months.
"This is a historic moment for our country and from tomorrow all of the
security operations will be in the hands of the Afghan security forces," Karzai
said at the ceremony, held at the new National Defense University built to
train Afghanistan's future military officers.
On the ground, this means U.S. and other foreign combat troops will not be
directly carrying the fight to the insurgency, but will advise and back up as
needed with air support and medical evacuations.
The transition also comes at a time when violence is at levels matching the
worst in 12 years, fueling some Afghans' concerns that their forces aren't
Karzai said that in the coming months, coalition forces will gradually
withdraw from Afghanistan's provinces as the country's security forces replace
In announcing the fifth and final phase of a process that began at a
November 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Karzai said "transition will be
completed and Afghan security forces will lead and conduct all operations."
He also said he would send representatives of his High Peace Council to Doha
for meetings with Taliban representatives once their office is open.
"We are hopeful that if the opening of the office is today or if tomorrow
the negotiation for peace starts sooner between the High Peace Council and the
Taliban," Karzai told reporters after the ceremony.
Karzai visited Qatar last week and discussed his country's stalled peace
process and the possible opening of the Taliban office. Both Afghanistan and
the United States support the opening as part of an effort to rekindle talks
with the insurgent group. But first, Kabul and Washington say, the Taliban must
renounce all ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and accept
"We are hopeful that after starting negotiations in Qatar, immediately the
negotiations and all peace process should move into Afghanistan. Afghanistan
shouldn't be center of the discussions outside of the country," Karzai said.
The Taliban have for years refused to speak to the government or the Peace
Council, set up by Karzai three years ago, because they considered them to be
American "puppets." Taliban representatives have instead talked to American and
other Western officials in Doha and other places, mostly in Europe.
But there are indications the Taliban sent a message to Karzai late last
month through the United States that they were now willing to talk to the peace
council, and that American officials were trying to find ways to facilitate how
the talks would take place.
"We don't have any immediate preconditions for talks between the Afghan
peace council and the Taliban, but we have principles laid down," Karzai said,
adding that they include bringing an end to violence and for talks to be moved
to Afghanistan so they are not exploited by other countries.
Karzai also lauded the work of NATO to help Afghan forces reach the point
where his military is ready to take responsibility for the country's security.
"This has been one of my greatest desires and pursuits. And I'm glad that I
as an Afghan citizen and president have reached this objective today. To have
the Afghan forces in command of themselves and in service of the country,"
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the coalition will help
militarily if and when needed but will no longer plan, execute or lead
Alliance training since 2009 dramatically increased the size of the Afghan
National Security Forces, bringing them up from 40,000 men and women six years
ago to about 352,000 today. After transition, coalition troops will move
entirely into a supporting role --- training and mentoring, and in emergency
situations providing the Afghans backup in combat, mainly in the form of
airstrikes and medical evacuation.
"Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces. Five years
ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today. Now you have 350,000
Afghan troops and police. A formidable force. And time and again, we have seen
them dealing quickly and competently with complex attacks. Defeating the
enemies of Afghanistan, and defending and protecting the Afghan people," Fogh
Afghans will now have the lead for security in all 403 districts of
Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Until now, they were responsible for 312 districts
nationwide, where 80 percent of Afghanistan's population of nearly 30 million
lives. Afghan security forces were until now carrying out 90 percent of
military operations around the country.
Foreign forces will continue to support Afghans on the battlefield when they
require it, but the Afghan army and police will be responsible for planning and
leading military operations against the insurgency.
"As your forces step forward across the country, the main effort of our
forces is shifting from combat to support. 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.
At that time, Afghanistan will be fully secured by Afghans," Fogh Rasmussen
The handover paves the way for coalition forces --- currently numbering
about 100,000 troops from 48 countries, including 66,000 Americans --- to
leave. By the end of the year, the NATO force will be halved. At the end of
2014, all combat troops will have left and will replaced, if approved by the
Afghan government, by a much smaller force that will only train and advise.
President Barack Obama has not yet said how many soldiers he will leave in
Afghanistan along with NATO forces, but it is thought that it would be about
9,000 U.S. troops and about 6,000 from its allies.
"From 2015, a new chapter will begin. We need to sustain, and build on, the
progress we have made. And NATO is ready to play its part, Fogh Rasmussen said.
Called "Resolute Support," Fogh Rasmussen said the goal of the new mission
"is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces."
"Afghanistan does not stand alone, now or in the future," he added.
The U.S. and its allies have already pledged to fund the Afghan forces in
the immediate years after 2015.
Miles from Tuesday's ceremony, a bomb attack targeted Afghan politician
Mohammed Mohaqiq, a prominent ethnic Hazara lawmaker who is a former Cabinet
member. He escaped the assassination attempt but the explosion killed three
civilians, the police said.