Afghan National Army soldiers perform in a ceremony symbolizing the transition of security in Mehtar lam from the International Security Assistance Force to the Afghan National Security Force during a transition commencement ceremony July 19. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
WASHINGTON (July 26, 2011) — Afghan forces’ assumption of the security lead in seven provinces and districts last week represents “a significant step toward our shared goal of seeing Afghans in the lead across the country by the end of 2014,” a NATO spokeswoman said today.
The transfers put almost one-quarter of the Afghan population under the protection of their own national security forces, Carmen Romero told reporters today.
“NATO and partner forces continue to support them, but in those areas, the Afghans are in the lead,” she said. “This is what transition is all about. This is part of our agreed strategy.”
Romero offered congratulations on progress the Afghans have made to date and reiterated continued NATO support as the transition continues. “We will continue to stand by them as they take responsibility for more and more of their country,” she said.
Transitions have taken place in all seven areas Afghan President Hamid Karzai identified in March to transfer to an Afghan security lead, Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, explained.
Six transition ceremonies have been held: in Bamiyan province on July 17; in eastern Laghman province’s Mehtar Lam city on July 19; in Helmand province’s Lashkar Gah city on July 20; in Herat city in Herat province on July 21; in Mazar-e-Sharif city in Balkh province on July 23; and in Panjshir province on July 24.
The Afghan government has opted to date to hold no formal ceremony marking the transition of all but one district of Kabul province to Afghan security control, Robbins said. She noted that Afghan national security forces have been in the lead in the capital city for several years.
During ceremonies marking the Lashkar Gah transition, Afghan military officials recognized the importance of their new responsibility to provide peace and stability in Helmand province’s capital and largest city.
“Our men have picked up good skills from coalition forces and we are now ready to take over security,” said Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Sheren Shah, commander of 3rd Brigade, 215th Corps.
Coalition forces will remain in the area to help guide a smooth transition and provide advice to the Afghan forces, said British Army Lt. Col. Alistair Aitken, commanding officer of Combined Forces Lashkar Gah.
The security transitions took place amid major leadership changes in Afghanistan.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker was sworn into his new post yesterday, and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen assumed command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last week.
Speaking to employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul following his swearing-in, Crocker pointed to last week’s successful security transition as an indicator of progress. He vowed to work hand-in-hand with Allen, coalition leaders and the Afghan government to continue.
The coming year will be critical in setting the right path, Crocker said, emphasizing the importance of thinking through the transition period carefully and in consultation with the Afghan government.
“I think all of us – Americans, coalition partners, the international community and the Afghan leadership – know that we must proceed carefully,” he said. “There will be no rush for the exits. The way we do this in the months ahead will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan and far into the future.”
Allen, in a letter to ISAF as he took his new command, emphasized the importance of coordinating and cooperating closely with Afghan partners to support the transition.
“Now is the time to be ‘all in’ as we support the prosecution of the campaign, the development and fielding of the [Afghan forces] and the process of transition,” he wrote.
“When we have completed the work of this campaign, Afghans will be in the lead in security across the country, securing the final phase of transition in 2014,” Allen wrote. “They will be postured not only to prevent the return of extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan, but also to achieve Afghanistan’s long-term security requirements.”
(Marine Corps Cpl. Adam Leyendecker, deployed to Regional Command Southwest with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, contributed to this article.)