Alliance committed to supporting Afghanistan's recovery, says U.S. General
By David McKeeby
Washington - NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) completed its takeover of international military operations in Afghanistan with the October 5 transfer of authority over 14 remaining eastern provinces from U.S.-led coalition forces.
"This historic day marks another chapter in the continuing progress of Afghanistan and underscores the alliance's commitment to helping the Afghan people rebuild their country," U.S. Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, commander of the coalition's Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan said at a transfer-of-command ceremony in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Eikenberry was joined at the ceremony by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and British Lieutenant General David Richards, commander of the NATO-ISAF mission.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the expansion is a major step forward in the alliance's U.N.-mandated mission to build on the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition to extend the Afghan government authority and create conditions for reconstruction and development throughout the country.
"The expansion of the NATO-ISAF mission is a reflection of the alliance's unflagging commitment to help the Afghan people build a better future for themselves," the secretary-general said in an October 5 statement.
The transfer of military command in eastern Afghanistan completes Phase Two of the NATO operation, the largest ever undertaken by the alliance. (See related article.)
Coalition forces entered Afghanistan nearly five years ago, on October 7, 2001, to oust the Taliban regime and pursue al-Qaida in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States. (See related article.)
"The coalition and its Afghan allies, through decisive military operations in late 2001 and early 2002, toppled the dark forces that had threatened international security and imposed their hateful vision on the common Afghan citizen," Eikenberry said. "Their great sacrifices and accomplishments will merit chapters in the future histories of the new Afghanistan."
In October 2003, the U.N. Security Council authorized an expansion of NATO's mission beyond the Afghan capital. Taking command of the U.N.-mandated ISAF, NATO moved northward in October 2004 in Phase Two, then advanced into the country's western regions in September 2005.
In mid-2006, the alliance moved into Afghanistan's six southern provinces, where they met significant resistance from Taliban remnants operating in the region. (See related article.)
As part of the transfer, 12,000 members of the U.S. military previously serving as part of the coalition forces' Operation Enduring Freedom will be transferred to NATO's Regional Command East, which has been further strengthened by pledges of additional reinforcements.
A total of 37 countries have contributed forces to ISAF. In addition to NATO's 26 members, the force also includes troops from Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Macedonia, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland.
The forces are partnered with their Afghan allies, Eikenberry said, in a fight "against a vicious enemy whose commanders send young boys to their death while avoiding combat themselves -- an enemy who sends suicide bombers into markets to kill women, an enemy who so fears the light of knowledge that he burns down schools and slaughters innocent children and their teachers, an enemy so cowardly that he kills voices of moderation and hope, whether a venerated religious leader or a patriotic governor who was armed only with a sense of duty and decency."
ISAF also includes 23 Provincial Reconstruction Teams, comprising military and civilian personnel who support Afghan authorities and internal aid organizations as they work to rebuild the country after decades of conflict.
"In Afghanistan, there can be no development without security," de Hoop Scheffer said, "and there will be no long-term security without development. Therefore, all international actors need to work closely together, supporting and reinforcing each other in order to maximize their efforts and to promote Afghan ownership."
In addition to the NATO force, 8,000 U.S. troops will continue to lead parallel operations focused on counterterrorism, reconstruction support and training the Afghan National Army and the National Police.
"I want to emphasize to the people of Afghanistan and our common enemies that the United States remains absolutely committed to NATO," Eikenberry said. "Our missions and forces on the ground remain unchanged. In short, the United States has been here since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, and we will not leave Afghanistan until the job is done."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)