19 Jun 2013

Afghan forces take lead in security

5:59 am on 19 June 2013

Afghan security forces have formally taken control of domestic combat operations from NATO troops. The handover comes after nearly 12 years of war.

President Hamid Karzai announced the move at a ceremony on Tuesday during which NATO forces gave control for the last 95 districts. The event marks a significant milestone since American-led forces ousted the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks of 2001 on New York and Washington, the BBC reports.

Hamid Karzai and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the ceremony as an historic moment for Afghans.

"Our security and defence forces will now be in the lead," Mr Karzai said in a speech to an audience of Afghan security and political leaders and foreign dignitaries. "From here, all security responsibility and all security leadership will be taken by our brave forces."

Mr Rasmussen paid tribute to the "brave and committed" soldiers in the Afghan armed forces and to those who had "made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country and their people. They have fought to ensure that international terrorism no longer finds safe haven in Afghanistan."

It is the first time since the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 that security across the country has become the responsibility of forces led by the Afghan government.

The handover of security control by the International Security Assistance Force began with Bamiyan in the summer of 2011.

Final districts to be handed over include 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.

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

Ahead of the event, a suicide bomber killed three people in Kabul. The attacker is believed to have targeted the convoy of Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, an MP and a leader of the Hazara ethnic minority. Mr Mohaqeq escaped with minor injuries.