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Germany Hands Over Peacekeeping Reins to Canada

German General Götz Gliemeroth handed over command of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan to Canada on Monday amid fresh security concerns following an emergence of suicide bomb attacks.

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Keeping Kabul safe.

After a year of steering the 6,420-strong multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) charged with overseeing security in the Afghan capital, German NATO General Goetz Gliemeroth handed over the reins to Canadian General Rick Hillier on Monday.

The Canadian troops with 2,000 soldiers make up the largest contingent of the NATO-led ISAF force. It’s unclear how long they will remain in Afghanistan. The Canadian contingent is expected to end its deployment in August, but Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has said 500 soldiers will stay on after that period.

Security fears rise after attacks

The festive hand-over ceremony was marked by tight security following a recent wave of suicide bomb attacks which killed a Canadian soldier in Kabul last month and a British peacekeeper a day later. The attacks, claimed by the Taliban, came on the heels of a December suicide bombing in which five Afghan security officials were killed in Kabul.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Earlier, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer (photo) expressed concerns that the emergence of suicide bomb attacks on Kabul peacekeepers showed that the capital was far from secure. He called on the international community not to lose its focus on a nation still racked by violence, poverty and a booming drug trade. "The situation is fragile," De Hoop Scheffer told reporters aboard a U.S. military plane on his way to Kabul. "It’s extremely difficult to have a 100 percent defence against these horrible suicide attacks.”

De Hoop Scheffer also underlined Afghanistan’s importance for the military alliance. "We now know that our future security, no matter where we are, is dependant on Afghanistan’s security," he said during the hand-over ceremony and warned that the international community needed to stay involved in Afghanistan.

"The U.N., the European Union, Japan and other important donors should stay fully committed to this country," De Hoop Scheffer said. "NATO can provide security and stability, but the Afghan people need housing and schooling and roofs over their heads."

Successes and challenges

Leutnant General Götz F.E. Gliemeroth, Kommandeur der ISAF, Afghanistan

Lt-Gen. Goetz F.E. Gliemeroth, new Commander of ISAF, salutes as he arrives for the handover ceremony of commanding force from ISAF to NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan Monday, Aug. 11, 2003. NATO took command of the 5,000-strong international peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital on Monday, a historic move that marks the alliance's first operation outside Europe since it was created 54 years ago. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Taking stock of Germany’s ISAF year, German General Götz Gliemeroth (photo) stressed that Germany had notched up successes during its command of the ISAF, most notably the smooth running of the Loya Jirga or the Grand Assembly that agreed on a new constitution for Afghanistan in December.

He also said considerable progress was made in the program towards disarming some 10,000 militia in the country under Germany’s leadership.

At the same time Gliemeroth warned that the nexus between the local warlords who ran provincial private armies and the wealthy druglords posed one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan’s future. "Deplorably we’re seeing a connection between this so-called warlordism, which means commanders who maintain armies for political reasons to exert pressure, and the funds that come from the drugs trade," Gliemeroth said.

Reiche Ernte

Poppy farmer Mohammad Agha in Afghanistan

The general, who has suggested in the past that NATO should tackle the issue even it meant violent conflicts with the drug mafia, insisted that cracking down on the flourishing drug trade should be made a priority. "It’s a challenge that the international community must urgently take up. I can only add that soldiers are the least appropriate means to combat the planting of opium and drug transport. Rather we need to set up the right structures in Afghanistan and shore them with funds," he said.

Continuing commitment to Afghanistan needed

Gliemeroth urged continuing engagement in the civil-military area. He pointed towards the success of the first Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. NATO controls that area and the PRT is involved in the reconstruction of hundreds of schools, hospitals, fountains and irrigation projects.

"I think our alliance partners have realized the central importance of such PRTs for the further development of Afghanistan," he said.

NATO currently runs one PRT, while the U.S-led force of 10,600 controls the remainder. PRTs, whose members range from a few dozen to more than 200, combine military and reconstruction roles in far-flung areas. By next month there will be 13 PRTs across Afghanistan. NATO’s peacekeeping force aims to set up five new teams over the next six months.Gliemeroth however warned that the situation in Iraq shouldn’t be allowed to divert attention from Afghanistan. "Currently, in all fairness to the situation in Iraq, it has to be said that Afghanistan has been largely overshadowed by the development there," Gliemeroth said. "But I think the international community owes this land (Afghanistan) a great deal."

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