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Afghan forces take over from Nato

Afghanistan's armed forces are taking over the lead for security nationwide from the US-led Nato coalition, President Hamid Karzai has announced.

The handover of responsibility is a significant milestone in the nearly 12-year war and marks a turning point for Nato military forces, which will now move entirely into a supporting role. It also paves the way for their full withdrawal in 18 months.

"This is a historic moment for our country and from tomorrow all of the security operations will be in the hands of the Afghan security forces," Mr Karzai said at the ceremony, held on Tuesday at the new National Defence University built to train Afghanistan's future military officers.

Mr Karzai said that, in the coming months, coalition forces will gradually withdraw from Afghanistan's provinces as the country's security forces replace them.

In announcing the fifth and final phase of a process which began at a Nato summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2010, Mr Karzai said "transition will be completed and Afghan security forces will lead and conduct all operations".

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the coalition will help militarily if and when needed but will no longer plan, execute or lead operations.

Alliance training since 2009 dramatically increased the size of the Afghan National Security Forces, bringing them up from 40,000 men and women six years ago to about 352,000 today.

After transition, coalition troops will move entirely into a supporting role - training and mentoring, and in emergency situations providing back-up for the Afghans in combat, mainly in the form of air strikes and medical evacuation.

Mr Rasmussen said: "Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces. Five years ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today. Now you have 350,000 Afghan troops and police. A formidable force. And time and again, we have seen them dealing quickly and competently with complex attacks. Defeating the enemies of Afghanistan, and defending and protecting the Afghan people."

Afghans will now have the lead for security in all 403 districts of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Until now, they were responsible for 312 districts nationwide, where 80% of Afghanistan's population of nearly 30 million live. Afghan security forces were until now carrying out 90% of military operations around the country.

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