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Germany, Netherlands Take Control of Afghan Peacekeeping Force - 2003-02-10

Germany and the Netherlands have taken command of the 22-nation International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, that is responsible for maintaining security in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Heavy security and military pomp marked the official handover of the ISAF command from Turkish to German and Dutch officers.

The 4,800 ISAF troops have been responsible for security in Kabul since December 2001.

A separate U.S.-led coalition force of about 10,000 troops is responsible for prosecuting the war against the remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida terror network.

Speaking at the ISAF handover ceremony, Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked the troops for helping to restore a semblance of normal life for the residents of Kabul.

"Your work is providing the common Afghan man with the security and safety in which he can send his children to school, where a woman can go and work and go and earn money and make a life, where people can start businesses, where life begins to function as life does in other parts of the world," Mr. Karzai said.

Turkish Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu handed over command of ISAF troops to German Lieutenant General Norbert von Heyst. Last week, General Zorlu said he thought ISAF troops should remain in Kabul for another "two or three years" to ensure security.

Speaking in Kabul, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said international peacekeepers were vital for Afghanistan's future stability. "We know that the lasting commitment of the international community is still necessary to overcome the devastation of 20 years of civil war and the cruel legacy of the Taleban. And to create favorable conditions for economic development and democracy, and last but not least, to make sure that Afghanistan will never become a safe haven and training area for ruthless terrorists," he explained.

German military officials say their aim during the six months of their command is to ensure a "self-sustaining" peace that would allow ISAF troops to return home.

Afghanistan's government and the United Nations have repeatedly called for the ISAF force to be expanded beyond Kabul. They say the force could be vital for security when elections are held next year.