Code 41915
PublishDate: Monday, March 21, 2011 12:00

Security handover from NATO to Afghan forces seen challenging

After nearly 10 years of tiring war against Taliban and al-Qaida militants, Afghan security forces are poised to take over national defense from the NATO-led troops and pave the way for gradual withdrawal of foreign combatants from the war-torn country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a landmark speech on March 22 announced the first regions Afghan forces would take over security control from NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) in July this year.

The bold decision, a stride towards self-reliance and winning national trust has placed the fledgling Afghan army in a critical stage -- either do or die.

Although the president specified the safest areas to be handed over to Afghan security forces in the first phase, ensuring viable security poses challenge to the new brand but poorly equipped armed forces.

"Afghan National Security Forces will take full security responsibility of provinces -- Kabul except Sarobi district, Bamyan and Panjshir as well as cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Lashkar Gah, Herat and Mehterlam," Karzai addressed army officers at National Military Academy in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Karzai made the announcement while Taliban militants have shifted violent insurgency from their traditional stronghold in south to the relatively peaceful northern provinces.

Taliban militants have lost the ability to confront the security forces on the battle field, but the deadly suicide attacks and roadside bombings have proved dreadful headache for both Afghan and well-equipped NATO force.

"Afghan forces should be assisted to stand on their feet first and then the foreign troops pull out of the country," retired Afghan army general Noorul Haq Aloomi said in a television panel discussion.

The strength of Afghan National Army currently total 155,418 and will reach 171,600 by the end of 2011 on schedule, and police force is over 118,000 at the moment, according to Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi

Lack of air power has seriously worried those at the helm of Afghan administration.

"No army can safeguard the boundaries of a country without having strong air force," Azimi stated, referring to the fledgling air corps, made up of a few helicopters, transport planes but no jet fighters, reconnaissance and bombers.

Addressing a news conference on March 16, Azimi said, "We are ready to take over security responsibility."

Nevertheless, he admitted that Afghan security forces are still facing problems in terms of number, training and equipments.

In his speech, President Karzai also described the security transition process as vital but difficult. "Transition is not an easy task but Afghans do not want others to be responsible for security and defense of their country," he said. "Security and defense must be handed over to Afghans and it is an irreversible process."

The process of taking over security from over 140,000-strong NATO-led ISAF by Afghan troops will be completed by the end of 2014, Karzai said.

In spite of bloody war against Taliban and al-Qaida network over the past 10 years, security remained fragile in the post- Taliban Afghanistan. In 2010, according to iCasualties, a website tracking U.S., NATO casualties in war on terror, 711 service members were killed in Afghanistan with 368 of them in the deadly Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) attacks.

So far this year, according to iCasualties, 98 NATO soldiers with 79 of them in 54 IED blasts have been killed in Afghanistan.

Likewise military operations, the government-initiated national reconciliation program has delivered little as no Taliban leaders have joined the peace process.

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