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Afghan handover

July 23, 2011

NATO-led German forces have relinquished control of the capital of a northern Afghan province to the Afghan army. The transition is part of NATO's overall withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014.

Afghan security forces in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh in Afghanistan.
Afghan security forces have welcomed the transitionImage: DW

NATO-led German forces handed over security responsibilities to local Afghan forces in the capital of the northern province, Balkh, on Saturday as part of an effort withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan by 2014.

In a ceremony attended by senior cabinet ministers and the German ambassador, the NATO flag was lowered and the Afghan flag was raised as they officially took over control of the city Mazar-i-Sharif.

"We truly understand that putting the security and military burden of our country on our international friends forever would not be rational," Atta Mohammad Noor, the provincial governor said, addressing the ceremony.

Guido Westerwelle in Afghanistan
Westerwelle was in Afghanistan for the fourth time in two yearsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Mazar-i-Sharif is the sixth of seven areas to transition to Afghan control in a phase of handovers.

Although most of the areas are fairly peaceful, the transition comes just days after a deadly bomb exploded in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing four people.

In response to the bombing on Wednesday, critics expressed concern that the German pullout was being rushed.

Challenges ahead

Noor expressed his confidence about the capabilities of the Afghan forces on the ground during the ceremony on Saturday, adding there will be no "serious difficulties in the short term."

But he also warned that the region still faced challenges.

"Given the change in the fighting tactics of terrorists and their supporters, who use non-traditional, irregular and grueling methods of war, especially aimless killing of the civilians and assassination of elite civil and military figures, we will face many challenges in the long run," Noor said.

The transition comes just a day after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited Bundeswehr troops in Mazar-i-Sharif and met with the governor of Balkh province to discuss the handover.

Westerwelle's visit

On Thursday, he rejected calls to set out a precise timetable for the withdrawal. "It wouldn't be a good idea to say which troops would be pulled out in which month," Westerwelle said after arriving in the capital Kabul.

He argued that this would amount to an open invitation to escalate violence for those who want to prevent reconciliation.

The German government currently has more than 5,000 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in the north of the country.

After almost a decade of war, 150,000 NATO-led troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2014.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (AFP, dpa)

Editor: Ben Knight