Afghan forces undertake combat lead
"From tomorrow, our security and defence forces will now be in the lead," Karzai said before his speech to a ceremony marking the start of the fifth and final phase of the security transition from foreign troops to Afghan counterparts.
"From here, all security responsibility and all security leadership will be taken by our brave forces,” the president said shortly before the handover ceremony at a military centre.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who arrived in Kabul for the handover ceremony, said Afghan forces were taking the lead on security from today (Tuesday).
"They are doing so with remarkable resolve, and they deserve the full support of the Afghan people," he said at the ceremony.
The handover of the last 95 districts from NATO to Afghan control includes areas in the south and east where the Taliban have concentrated their bloody insurgency against the Afghan government since 2001.
After the handover, 100,000 NATO forces will play a supporting and training role as Afghan soldiers and police take the lead in the fight against the militants.
The handover coincides with a huge blast that ripped through a convoy carrying Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a leader of the ethnic Hazara minority.
At the ceremony, Karzai said at the end of the final phase of the security transition process, the whole country will be in the hands of the country's police and army.
"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," said Karzai.
The President also said government representatives would be sent to Qatar soon to discuss peace with the Taliban. High Peace Council officials will travel to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the Taliban, he said.
In a statement, Rasmussen thanked President Karzai for his announcement that Afghan forces were taking the lead for security across the country.
“This is a day for Afghans to be proud. And I am proud to stand with you,” the statement issued by NATO quoted him as saying.
“I would like to salute the brave and committed Afghan soldiers and veterans gathered here today --men and women, from different ethnic groups, from all across the country.”
Rasmussen paid tributes to Afghan families and loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country and protect their people.
“They have fought to ensure that international terrorism no longer finds safe haven in Afghanistan. And many have shed their blood for this cause. We honour the memory of those whom we have lost.”
He also paid special tributes to wounded servicemen. “In front of you are seated young soldiers from the ANSF and from ISAF. You today represent all the brave servicemen from this country and from our 50 nation coalition who have sacrificed so much for our joint effort. We honour you.”
He said there had been no Afghan national security forces a decade ago and half a decade ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they were 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.”
The NATO top official said it was because of the growing strength of Afghan forces that they had been able to reach the milestone.
“We still have 18 months of hard work ahead. And we must keep up the momentum….Together with our partners, we are planning a new and different mission,” he said.
He said NATO would also play its part in the broader international efforts to ensure the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces. “This will be another visible demonstration that Afghanistan does not stand alone, now or in the future. “
Over the past 11 years, the whole international community has provided strong support to Afghanistan. “We have all made promises that we must keep. Continued progress by the Afghan authorities to improve governance, fight corruption, and uphold human rights will pave the way for continued international support. And democratic, transparent and inclusive elections next year will play a very important role.”
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. Joe Dunford congratulated the people of Afghanistan on reaching Milestone 2013.
“On this historic occasion, the Afghan people take a monumental step forward as the Afghan National Security forces take the lead for security across the country,” he said.
“No longer are the Afghan people reliant on coalition forces to provide security. Afghan soldiers and police are now protecting fellow Afghans.”
The US general said with the announcement of tranche 5, they were entering the final phase of security transition. “This is a cause for celebration, not apprehension. While the nature of our relationship is changing, the commitment of the international community to the people of Afghanistan remains resolute and enduring.”
Two weeks ago, the NATO defense ministers approved the concept for a new mission in Afghanistan beginning in 2015. The details of the new mission called Resolute Support will be developed in the coming months.
“Challenges lie ahead. But today’s announcement recognises the ability of a sovereign Afghanistan to meet those challenges,” Dunford said.
He said the Afghan people would see their sons and daughters providing security and the enemies of Afghanistan would see a capable and credible force.
“Today is a proud day for Afghanistan. We, in the Coalition, look forward to supporting you in the months and years ahead, as you seize the opportunity to realise your dreams of a peaceful, prosperous future.”
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