Da International Herald Tribune del 05/10/2006
Originale su http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/05/news/afghan.php

Coalition in Afghanistan transfers command to NATO

KABUL - NATO assumed command of foreign forces in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, taking over from a U.S.- led coalition that toppled the Taliban regime five years ago and completing its expansion across the country.

The transfer saw 12,000 troops, who had been operating in the east under the coalition, fall under the 37-nation International Security Assistance Force, increasing the force to about 31,000 soldiers nationwide.

The event was marked by a flag-changing ceremony in Kabul attended by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and the top commanders of both forces. The transfer of authority would enhance the work of the foreign forces, bringing them under one command, General David Richards of Britain, the NATO force's commander, said at the ceremony.

"Throughout Afghanistan we will continue to confront insurgents when and where necessary," said Richards, who was promoted to a full general hours before the changeover.

"But the overarching purpose of our security operations is to enable improvements in government capacity and to accelerate reconstruction and development, for real benefit to the lives of all Afghans."

About 8,000 troops will remain under U.S. command and focus on counterterrorism activities - principally hunting for the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden - as well as training and aircraft support duties.

The coalition invaded Afghanistan almost five years ago, on Oct. 7, 2001, and within weeks toppled the Taliban government, which had sheltered Qaeda leaders blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

But the Taliban insurgency has grown stronger since then, with insurgents killing scores of foreign and Afghan troops in mass attacks and also intensifying a vicious campaign of suicide and roadside bombings.

NATO took over command of the Taliban-dominated southern provinces from the coalition on July 31, saying that it would put renewed emphasis on reconstruction and development, which it says are key to undermining support for the Taliban.

Although NATO was now in command countrywide, U.S. commitment to Afghanistan was undiminished, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the coalition commander, said in a NATO statement.

"As a NATO member, the United States will remain by far the single largest contributor of troops and capability," he said.

Eikenberry also paid tribute to the 337 coalition soldiers and the more than 800 members of the Afghan security forces he said had been killed during the past five years of the coalition's campaign.

Despite the efforts of tens of thousands of foreign and Afghan troops, the insurgency is going through its bloodiest phase yet, with more than 2,000 people killed this year, most of them rebels.

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