Britain has turned over command of multinational peacekeepers in Kabul to Turkey. The formal change of command took place in Kabul Thursday. The Turkish troops will be trying to keep the peace during potentially rough political times.
With Afghanistan's transitional president Hamid Karzai in attendance, Britain handed over command of the 4,000 troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Turkey.
Honor guards of Britain's Royal Anglian Regiment, many of whom are soon to return home, and the Turkish Battalion Task Force Group paraded across a Kabul football field in a colorful change of command ceremony. The British flag was lowered and the Turkish flag raised.
British Major General John McColl thanked Afghans for their hospitality. In a wry reference to past British colonial adventures in Afghanistan in the 19th and 20th centuries, he noted that British troops had not always fared so well in Afghanistan. "Afghanistan has hosted British generals in the previous two centuries on at least three occasions," he said, "and, generally, things have not gone too well for my predecessors. It's been an honor for the UK to lead ISAF for the past six months, and I'm delighted that things have gone a little better this time."
Taking command of the peacekeeping force is Major General Akin Zorlu. "In response to calls from both the international community and the United Nations," he said, "Turkey has willingly agreed to take over the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force with the aim of contributing to the peace and security that the Afghan people have long desired."
President Karzai praised ISAF for both its security role, and for carrying out civil works as well. "ISAF not only provided security for the citizens of Afghanistan, for the people of Kabul, but ISAF also rebuilt our schools, helped some public building, and reopened our airport," said Mr. Karzai.
The 4,000 troop ISAF contingent draws from a number of European nations, with intelligence and logistical support from the United States. Its mandate does not extend, however, outside Kabul.
Britain will soon be pulling out the bulk of its force from ISAF, as well as withdrawing Royal Marines who have been engaged in anti-terrorist operations with U.S. forces. Turkey now has 1,200 troops in ISAF, and another 200 are to be added by the end of June.
Turkish military spokesman Major Murat Pekgulec said Turkish military pride is on the line, as Turkey assumes its first command of a multinational peacekeeping force. "This is the first time Turkey is leading a peacekeeping operation," he said. "This is also an important thing for us, for the Turkish Army, to prove their professionalism in the peacekeeping operation."
Turkey will command the ISAF force for the next six months.