Marking the milestone in Kabul
Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan
Mr President, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today is an important day. Mr President thank you for your announcement that Afghan forces are taking the lead for security across the country.
This is a day for Afghans to be proud. And I am proud to stand with you.
I would like to salute the brave and committed Afghan soldiers and veterans gathered here today. Men and women, from different ethnic groups, from all across the country. And I pay tribute to the families and loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country and protect their people.
They have fought to ensure that international terrorism no longer finds safe haven in Afghanistan. And many have shed their blood for this cause. We honour the memory of those whom we have lost.
We also pay special tribute today to the wounded servicemen.
In front of you are seated young soldiers from the Afghan National Security Forces and from the International Security and Assistance Force. You today represent all the brave servicemen from this country and from our 50 nation coalition who have sacrificed so much for our joint effort. We honour you.
I am equally proud of the determination and professionalism of our ISAF service members. From fifty nations across the world. Carrying out the mandate of the United Nations.
The National Defense University is a powerful illustration of Afghanistan’s progress. Five years ago, before construction could begin, this site still needed to be demined. Now it is the place where the very best of the Afghan army leadership is trained to defend this country and help build a better future.
Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces. Five years ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today. Now you have 350,000 Afghan troops and police. A formidable force. And time and again, we have seen them dealing quickly and competently with complex attacks. Defeating the enemies of Afghanistan, and defending and protecting the Afghan people.
It is because of the growing strength of your forces that we have been able to reach today’s milestone. At the NATO summit in Lisbon, ISAF Heads of State and Government set out an ambitious roadmap together with you, Mr President. We agreed that we would gradually hand over responsibility for security to the Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
At the NATO summit in Chicago last year, we agreed that by the middle of this year we would reach an important milestone, where your forces would be taking the lead for security across the country.
We can all be proud that we have delivered on this objective and that Afghan Forces today are taking the lead on security. They are doing so with remarkable resolve. And they deserve the full support of the Afghan people.
It has been tough. We have faced up to many challenges. And no doubt there will be more. We have kept to our roadmap. And we have kept to our timetable. With your announcement, we have now reached that milestone in our journey which marks the progress we have made.
As your forces step forward across the country, the main effort of our forces is shifting from combat to support. We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations if needed. But we will no longer plan, execute or lead those operations. And by the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed. At that time, Afghanistan will be fully secured by Afghans.
So today, our shared goal is in sight.
We still have 18 months of hard work ahead. And we must keep up the momentum.
From 2015, a new chapter will begin. We need to sustain, and build on, the progress we have made. And NATO is ready to play its part.
Together with our partners, we are planning a new and different mission. RESOLUTE SUPPORT. The aim is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. We will also play our part in the broader international efforts, to ensure the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces. This will be another visible demonstration that Afghanistan does not stand alone, now or in the future.
Over the past 11 years, the whole international community has provided strong support to Afghanistan. We have all made promises that we must keep. Continued progress by the Afghan authorities to improve governance, fight corruption, and uphold human rights will pave the way for continued international support. And democratic, transparent and inclusive elections next year will play a very important role.
I am happy to see many young Afghans here. And I am happy to see young cadets, who have just started training. I hope you will all look back at today with great pride. Because this is truly a historic moment. Afghanistan’s future is in your hands.
Today also marks an important milestone on our common journey. A journey to create a better future for Afghanistan. A journey to create a stable future for this whole region, and for all of us. And a journey that we will continue together, based on a new relationship, a relationship that will remain strong for the years to come.
"Tasha Kur" - "Manana"