Afghans welcomed their national forces taking responsibility of security across the country, ending 12 years of US and NATO-led control. Many are concerned about the Afghan security forces’ logistic capabilities to face down violent militant networks operating in the country.
Barely an hour before a simple closed door ceremony was held here in Kabul marking the transfer of security from NATO to Afghan forces, a suicide bomb exploded in the heart of the city, killing three and injuring dozens.
Standing outside the bomb-crumpled metal gate, next to his clothes still spattered with blood, Mohamad Asad said he thought Afghan security forces could protect the country. But that neighboring Pakistan was damaging the process.
“The national army can defend our Afghan nation, but with Pakistan interfering, security will be impossible. If Pakistan is against the Afghan national army, it will be impossible to have a secure Afghanistan.”
The Taliban and other militant networks are believed to take refuge in Pakistan.
Some critics are skeptical about the ability of the 350,000 Afghan security forces to deal with the bloody Taliban insurgency after 2014 when most foreign combat forces will have withdrawn.
Looking at the twisted metal left from Tuesday’s blast, Ezatullah said he was worried. Afghans often only use one name. “Me and my family are very worried about this, the situation and security in Afghanistan are not good,” he stated.
Senior administration officials in Washington said the handover was a key milestone on the way to the complete transition of responsibility for security to Afghans by the end of next year.
Speaking in a International Security Assistance Force compound in Kabul, behind high blast walls and rolls of barbed wire, NATO forces chief Gen. Joseph Dunford was more optimistic.
“Do I believe today that the Afghans have the capability to assume lead security responsibility in Afghanistan, the answer is yes. Do I believe the Afghan forces can secure the elections in 2014, the answer is yes, and do I believe we can effect full security transition with the mission that secretary general outlined today from a train, advise and assist perspective at the end of 2014," Dunford noted. "The answer is yes.”
Dunford said the final security transfer in the more unstable areas of eastern and southeastern Afghanistan would happen over the next five months.
He added that NATO forces would continue to train and assist their Afghan counterparts, as well as give air support and medical evacuation services.
But not everyone in Kabul shares Gen. Dunford’s views. Provincial council official, Angiza Shinwari of eastern Nangarhar province predicts more violence.
“I am not optimistic about this transition, because our national forces are not trained with patriotism, and they are not trained in what they need to be trained. And they did not receive the equipment that they need to defend their land and people. Because of that I am not optimistic on the security transition,” said Shinwari.
Dunford said talks are underway between the United States and Afghanistan on a bilateral security agreement that is to take effect once international combat forces leave at the end of 2014.
That agreement he said, will be partly based on the performance of the Afghan forces over the summer, next year’s presidential elections, the pace of political reconciliation with the Taliban and cooperation from regional players, an oblique reference to neighboring Pakistan.