KABUL: President Hamid Karzai announced the transfer of nationwide security from NATO to Afghan control, a major milestone as the US-led war effort winds down after 12 years.
Shortly before Karzai’s speech at a handover ceremony, the location of which had been kept a secret, a prominent lawmaker escaped a bomb attack in Kabul that killed three civilians, underlining the country’s continuing instability.
“From tomorrow, our security and defence forces will now be in the lead,” Karzai said. “From here, all security responsibility and all security leadership will be taken by our brave forces.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghan forces were taking the lead on security from Tuesday.
“They are doing so with remarkable resolve, and they deserve the full support of the Afghan people,” he said at the ceremony.
The handover of the last 95 districts from NATO to Afghan control includes areas in the south and east where the Taliban have concentrated their bloody insurgency against the US-backed government since 2001.
After the handover, 100,000 NATO forces will play a supporting and training role as Afghan soldiers and police take the lead in the fight against the militants who were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks.
Doubts remain, however, over the ability of the 350,000-strong Afghan forces to thwart the Taliban, and the NATO military coalition will retain an important role in logistics and air support as well as in combat when required.
Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a leader of the ethnic Hazara minority who is likely to play a key role in presidential elections due next April, survived a bomb attack unhurt but his clothes were burnt.
“I’m fine. Four of my guards are wounded and are in hospital,” he told AFP. “I was going to the parliament and it was near the office of the Independent Human Rights Commission.
“I heard a big explosion on the side of the car and I didn’t realise what happened. It was big. Only my cloak is a little burned, other than that I’m fine.”
The lawmaker told AFP that he had been threatened.
“I was under threat. The intelligence agency was sending letters that I should be careful. There was a threat against me. I was rarely going to the parliament.”
Mohammad Zahir, the CID chief of Kabul, told reporters at the scene that three civilians were killed and 24 others, including some guards, were wounded.
He said the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device.
Recent attacks have demonstrated the Taliban’s ability to strike at Kabul as the country prepares for next year’s presidential elections and the NATO withdrawal by the end of 2014.
A suicide car bomb last Tuesday killed 15 civilians outside the Supreme Court in Kabul. The previous day, gunmen fired grenades at the city airport and an international aid group’s compound was targeted in a seven-hour battle late last month.
Despite the attacks penetrating the capital’s defences, the effective response of elite Afghan security forces has been widely hailed as a sign of increasing professionalism.