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11 August 2003

NATO Takes over ISAF Peacekeeping Mission in Afghanistan

Kabul ceremony marks change of command from German/Dutch leadership

NATO formally took over command of the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) from German and Dutch troops at a ceremony in Kabul August 11.

The new commander of ISAF's 5,000 troops, Lt. General Gotz Gliemeroth of Germany, assured the Afghan people and the international community that ISAF's mission to assist Afghan authorities in providing a secure environment for the country would continue under the command of the NATO.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo said the leadership of the 31- nation military alliance would end the search for new countries to lead the ISAF force every six months.

"From now on, NATO will provide a continuing headquarters, and force commander, strategic co-ordination, command and control, and political direction. And it will do so as long as necessary and required," said Rizzo.

General Gliemeroth said NATO's acceptance of command not only means a wider coalition of forces involved in the peacekeeping efforts, but "it also stands for enhanced continuity provided by the Alliance through the subsequent strategic and operational guidance plus substantial resources."

The NATO general told his Afghan audience, including President Hamid Karzai, that the ISAF troops are serving in order to "foster a peaceful, prosperous and truly multi-ethnic Afghanistan," and would work to train and enhance Afghan security, police and military forces, as well as continue to provide security in Kabul, and keep its airport "a viable, visible symbol of success and potential progress."

President Karzai described the ISAF's mission in his country as "a very particular, unique experience of cooperation and defending peace," and "also the best example of international cooperation in helping another member of its kind; the people of the world."

He described how far the capital Kabul had progressed since ISAF began its mission in December 2001 into a city attracting expatriate Afghans, international investors, new business opportunities for its residents, and educational opportunities for its children.

"All of that is because of the peace process that we have, and the peace process is here because ISAF is here," said Karzai.

Karzai also paid tribute and condolences for the soldiers killed during the previous ISAF mission, known as ISAF 3, and pledged his government's efforts to ensure safety and security for the incoming troops.

"While you bring us security and safety, it is also our job to try and make sure that your safety and security is ensured in our country. It's a two way street. And we will do all that we can," he said.

Jean Arnault of the United Nations described the ISAF change of command as a "very significant milestone" in the force's history.

"For the Afghan people and those from the international community that have been working for two years in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is a very welcome sign that at this delicate, critical juncture of the Bonn process the commitment of the international community for Afghanistan is in no way getting weaker, but getting broader," he said.

Arnault paid tribute to the outgoing German and Dutch mission, led by German Lt. General Norbert van Heyst, saying General van Heyst's "steadfast leadership" had "indeed achieved a lot."

"On the security side we are witnesses to the improvement of the security situation in Kabul since March. ... We are also witnessing institution building as a new joint security coordination center has been established where Afghans and ISAF are working together to ensure the security of Kabul. ISAF 3 has also provided probably the strongest statement to date in terms of its determination to secure the Kabul environment in the face of adversity," said Arnault.

For his part, outgoing General van Heyst wished Afghanistan and its people "continued progress and success on its way to internal peace," and sought to remind the international community that ISAF's mission is worthy of support. He also urged that its mission be extended beyond Kabul and its immediate area.

Lt. General P.J.M. Godderij, the Deputy Chief of the Defense staff of the Netherlands said that thanks to ISAF, the Afghan people "have hope for a better future." He said the city of Kabul had become "a relatively safe island surrounded by what is still a war-torn country," and is once again "becoming accessible to the outside world."

Following is a transcript of the ceremony marking NATO's takeover of the ISAF mission:

(begin transcript)




AUGUST 11, 2003


MODERATOR: I would like to welcome everyone to the International Security Assistance Force Change of Command ceremony. The sequence of today's events is available in your programs. Shortly we will play the national anthem of Afghanistan followed by speeches by our distinguished guests and national commanders during which the change of command from Lt. General Van Heyst to Lt. General Gliemeroth will take place. The end of the ceremony will be signified by the playing of the national anthems of Germany and the Netherlands. During all national anthems you are invited to stand and all officers in uniform are requested to salute. After the last national anthem you are requested to take your seats so we can arrange a safe and efficient exit for all the guests from the hall to the reception. Could I ask you now to stand for the playing of the national anthem of Afghanistan.

Playing of national anthem of Afghanistan.

MODERATOR: Would you please be seated. The commander of ISAF, Lt. General Van Heyst will now deliver his final address.

Lt. General Norbert Van Heyst: Mr. President, your excellencies, distinguished guests. We feel much honored by your attendance at the transfer of command ceremony from ISAF 3 to ISAF 4 and we appreciate your attendance very much. Please allow me as the outgoing commander after a six month tour of duty some concluding personal remarks.

In my speech on February 10 on the same stage, I promised to conduct ISAF 3 in the most active way possible. We have covered all areas of security and security sector reform and we together have succeeded in keeping Kabul as a relatively safe haven in this country. To remind you with one example only, the last rocket launched on Kabul was 30 March. That is more than four months ago and I feel that is one result of our conduct of ISAF 3. I personally interpreted my mission broadly, that means I did not want to limit my mission to purely projecting force. ISAF 3 needed to participate in many programs and projects related to security, including disarmament, ANA, police, border police, Kabul gates, information exchange and more. Although much remains to be done, this broad engagement achieved tangible results. Our price for security growth was high. Since ISAF 3 took command, five soldiers and one local interpreter lost their lifes due to accidents and attacks in theater. 2 soldiers died of natural causes and 62 died in a plane crash while redeploying from the mission. A number of comrades were also severely injured. I want to pay tribute to all of these people, particularly those who paid the highest price for peace and stability in the new Afghanistan. I want to thank you Mr. President, particularly for your personal recognition of our killed soldiers. Your gestures were well received by my ISAF comrades.

From the bottom of my heart I want to state that many of us will leave something of ourselves here in this beautiful country. We will stay closely linked to Afghanistan, long after returning to our home countries. I personally want to thank my Afghan friends for your openness, your kindness and your overwhelming hospitality. A very personal thanks to you Mr. President and your cabinet for your generous support. You have always had time for the commander of ISAF when I asked for an appointment and as a soldier with 40 years of experience this was a unique experience. I fear that upon my return to Germany it will remain unique.

I wish this country continued progress and success on its way to internal peace. I firmly believe that it is well on track due to the Bonn process. I want to remind the international community that this mission is worthy of being supported. Don't diminish your efforts and capacities here in Afghanistan. Don't limit your support to just Kabul and its immediate surrounding area. Last but not least, I wish the new ISAF team and my successor Lt. General Gliemeroth all the success in his mission. Mr. President, transfer your confidence from ISAF 3 to ISAF 4 for the benefit of your own country. Mr. President, your excellencies, distinguished guests ISAF 3 reports out.

Moderator: I would like to invite his excellency Mr. Hamid Karzai, President of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan to address the ceremony.

President Karzai: General Van Heyst, I wanted to speak in our native Dari and Pashto. But while you were talking I decided to speak in English too. You could have spoke in German. You didn't. So I will speak in English too.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear soldiers. The experience of ISAF in Afghanistan is a very particular, unique experience of cooperation and defending peace for a country and a people that has gone through two and a half decades of oppression and violation of rights. The flags that I see here today of all of the nations that have contributed to the peace of Afghanistan are the flags that all of the people of Afghanistan will remember. These flags today show us also the best example of international cooperation in helping another member of its kind; the people of the world. And the people of Afghanistan are very, very grateful. From the establishment of ISAF in Kabul to the efforts of General McCall, the British leadership, from the Turkish leadership of ISAF, to the German and Netherlands leadership of ISAF, the people of Kabul and the surrounding area of Kabul have seen better progress toward peace, better stability and more progress.

Today we have a truly international city. Today we have a city where people can come and invest. Today we have in this city a Thai restaurant that we have never heard of in Afghanistan before. Today we have restaurants from India and China. We have investments from countries that never dared think of coming here in the past thirty years. And Afghans who have come from all over the world to resettle here and start businesses. And Afghans in the streets of Kabul, in the surrounding area of Kabul, making their business, sending their children to school, going to work, earning money and rebuilding this country. All of that is because of the peace process that we have, and the peace process is here because ISAF is here.

The reputation of ISAF in Afghanistan is so great that when the members of the constitutional commission went around the country to talk about the constitution with the people outside of Kabul, they were first asked if they could also have ISAF in their provinces. This speaks in a very simple, straight way of the importance that the Afghan people give to the service you provide to Afghanistan. The Afghan people are grateful to you and the Afghan people would like to build on the success that you have achieved in Afghanistan. And the Afghan people are grateful to all the nations that have contributed to ISAF, particularly the countries that have contributed in a very significant manner, the UK, Turkey, Germany, Holland and all other nations.

I am very happy to see the successful fulfillment of the third ISAF mission in Afghanistan. I am also very happy to see NATO, a leading world organization, taking responsibility for ISAF in Afghanistan. In the continuation of this mission I am certain this task will be fulfilled in the most effective and professional manner, in the provision of security for the Afghan people. The peace you are bringing us today through your contribution is bringing to the people of Afghanistan institution building for the future of this country. Institution building so the Afghan people will eventually stand on their own feet. And that is what the Afghans want, that is what you are helping us for.

The Afghans remember my friends, the loss of life that you have. We feel very, very sorry for that. For the four soldiers that were killed by terrorists, for the more than 60 soldiers that died when they were fulfilling their duties after they left here and others who died of natural causes. We will remember them all, and we wish those who are serving now security and safety. While you bring us security and safety, it is also our job to try and make sure that your safety and security is ensured in our country. It's a two way street. And we will do all that we can. We appreciate your work. We say goodbye and we remember those that are leaving us, General Van Heyst, and we welcome General Gliemeroth and NATO. We will be friends as we were before.

Thank you very much.

Moderator: I would now like to invite the German Minister of Defense, Herr Dr. Peter Struck, to address the ceremony.

German Defense Minister Struck: Today, we are transferring the authority over the ISAF III mission to NATO.

This marks the end of the six-month period in which the Netherlands and Germany shared command responsibility for this mission.

It does not, however, mark the end of the mission itself, which is to enable the people of Afghanistan to live in freedom and determine their own future.

Despite all the setbacks, we have achieved a lot.

The general security situation in Kabul has improved substantially; this can be sensed by anyone visiting the city -- and this can be sensed notably by the people who live here.

Public life is also flourishing again; this is the foundation for reviving economic activity.

I am particularly pleased to see that lessons are again being given regularly at the schools. Education for boys and girls equally is a must if this country is to have a better future.

Preparations have begun for the first national elections in 2004 and efforts in the realm of "decommissioning, demobilization and reintegration" are taking shape.

Yet there is still a lot to be done.

We are concerned about the activities we can observe of forces both inside and outside Afghanistan that reject the idea of freedom of the individual and are striving to again destabilize the country in order to make it their prey again.

This is the source of the persistent danger which our soldiers face here and to which four of them fell victim.

They died because, as Chancellor Gerhard Schroder put it, they risked their health and their lives to give the country a better and peaceful future.

We mourn for these victims of terrorism; we feel for their families and friends.

Given this, the performance of you, the men and women of the Bundeswehr and the armies of the 29 other nations participating in ISAF III, must be rated even more highly.

Far away from your homes and your families, in unfamiliar climatic conditions, and under persistent threat, you have done your demanding job with bravour.

By means of your assured and invariably friendly conduct and your empathy, you have succeeded in gaining the trust and confidence of the local people and so in helping to stabilize the security situation in the country.

General van Heyst, I express my thanks and appreciation to you and your soldiers for this.

The task ahead now is to continue building democratic structures.

Afghanistan must not lapse back into anarchy and chaos. And Afghanistan must not again become the home of global terror, as was the case under the rule of the Taliban.

We must go on making our contribution towards the formation of government structures until the Afghan authorities are capable of guaranteeing a safe and secure environment by themselves.

And we must see to it that the people of Afghanistan remain convinced that a return to Taliban rule and the return of Al-Quaida are not desirable solutions for their country or for themselves.

What the people of Afghanistan wish for is a stable peace. They are pinning great hopes on the international community.

The enhanced support of NATO for ISAF IV is a visible expression of the fact that the people of Afghanistan will not be let down.

General Gliemeroth, you are today assuming the authority over ISAF IV. You have got a demanding six months ahead of you.

I wish you and your soldiers the best of luck and every success! May you all return home safe and sound!

Thank you very much.

Moderator: The Deputy Chief of the Defense staff of the Netherlands, Lt. General Godderij, is now invited to address the ceremony.

Lt. General Godderij: You Excellency, President Karzai, Ministers of Defense of Afghanistan and Germany, Deputy secretary-general of NATO, Generals, ladies and gentlemen.

It has been six months already since the German-Netherlands Army Corps had the honor of assuming command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). That change of command marked the start of the first operational mission for the bi-national army corps, which at the time had only just acquired its status as High Readiness Forces Headquarters. A mission during which ISAF suffered several tragic losses as a result of attacks and other incidents. Nonetheless, ISAF has succeeded in increasing the security and stability in the area of responsibility. This is partly thanks to an increase in the number of ISAF patrols and the intensified cooperation with the Afghan military and civil authorities.

We are all very pleased indeed to see that normal everyday life in Kabul is being resumed to an increasing extent. This not only apparent from the ever more hectic traffic in the city, which many of us regard with a certain sense of wonder, but also from the street trade, which is flourishing again. Another example is the repair work at Kabul International Airport, which has now reached an advanced stage. Slowly but surely, Kabul is becoming accessible to the outside world again. The most important indication of the positive turn we have now taken, however, is the support that the ISAF mission receives from the population of Kabul. Thanks to ISAF, the people here have hope for a better future and thanks to your important work, Kabul has become a relatively safe island surrounded by what is still a war-torn country. I would like to compliment the outgoing commander of ISAF, Lieutenant General Van Heyst, and his deputy, Brigadier General Bertholee, on the efforts of the ISAF headquarters over the past period. You and your people have proved that you can indeed be successfully deployed anywhere in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We are here today to witness the ISAF change of command. This change of command also heralds the conclusion of the greater part of the Dutch contribution to ISAF. From the outset of the ISAF mission, the Netherlands took its responsibility and immediately made one infantry company available. Together with the Dutch ISAF staff personnel, 2,250 Dutch military personnel have done their important jobs here in Afghanistan over the past two years, in excellent cooperation with soldiers from many other participating countries.

Early this month, the Netherlands embarked on a new mission, in Iraq. That does not mean, however, that our country no longer feels responsible for the future of Afghanistan. The reconstruction of and security situation in Afghanistan remains an important issue for the Netherlands. That is why the Netherlands will continue to be represented in the new ISAF staff. And that is also why the Netherlands will remain involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan by providing development funds.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation for the courage and efforts of all military personnel taking part in the ISAF mission. I wish our AFNORTH colleagues, who will command ISAF over the coming period, every success and I hope that they, together with the Afghan authorities, will be able to make a further contribution to a peaceful and stable future for Afghanistan.

Moderator: On behalf of Mr. Brahimi, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, Mr. Jean Arnault, Mr. Brahimi's deputy will now address the ceremony.

Mr. Jean Arnaut: Mr. President, your excellencies, officers and soldiers from ISAF, distinguished guests, this is certainly a very momentous occasion. A very significant milestone, as for the first time in its short history, the German and Dutch led ISAF is handed over to NATO.

For the Afghan people and those from the international community that have been working for two years in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is a very welcome sign that at this delicate, critical juncture of the Bonn process the commitment of the international community for Afghanistan is in no way getting weaker, but getting broader. Let this be for us an opportunity to express our gratitude to the member states that have supported ISAF for the past six months and to the officers and soldiers who have served in this mission and to the German and Dutch governments for their excellent leadership of ISAF 3. ISAF 3 under the steadfast leadership of General Van Heyst has indeed achieved a lot. On the security side we are witnesses to the improvement of the security situation in Kabul since March, as was mentioned earlier by General Van Heyst. We are also witnessing institution building as a new joint security coordination center has been established where Afghans and ISAF are working together to ensure the security of Kabul. ISAF 3 has also provided probably the strongest statement to date in terms of its determination to secure the Kabul environment in the face of adversity. Its unwavering response in the face of the attack on ISAF soldiers in June, killing 4 soldiers and injuring 69, showed ISAF's strong bond to the people of Kabul.

I join our German colleagues in sympathy for the families of the injured and the dead, sacrificing their lives for a country very far away from their own. And also for the Spanish ISAF contingent who were tragically killed in a plane crash as they made their way back home.

At the end of this remarkable tour of duty we now wish General Van Heyst and his officers and soldiers all the best of success and thank them for their contribution to the peace process in Afghanistan. We would like at the same time to give a warm welcome to the incoming ISAF commander, General Gliemeroth, and also express our deep gratitude to NATO's member states for agreeing to set up a mission of this nature, well outside of its traditional area of operation. We are heartened by the commitment to stability and security in Afghanistan made by NATO member states. ISAF will undoubtedly benefit from NATO's strategic command, command and control capabilities and the continuity to future commands that will enhance effectiveness. And more broadly this commitment by this powerful alliance of nations will greatly assist Afghanistan's transition to peace and its political, economic and social development.

We would also like to strengthen or remember that the three men who have commanded ISAF have all been keenly aware that if one wants to succeed in maintaining peace and security in Kabul, then one cannot ignore insecurity in the rest of the country. While we know and understand that ISAF 4's primary focus and responsibility will be on the capital, we look forward to working with the Afghan government, the Coalition and the United Nations in the pressing surge for solutions to challenges posed by insecurity across Afghanistan. This insecurity needs to be urgently addressed if an environment is to be created where reconstruction can thrive, state institutions can be rebuilt and free and fair elections can be held.

NATO is indeed taking over ISAF at a time when the debate on how to improve security across the country as a whole is assuming a new dimension and a new urgency, as the processes leading to national elections and a new constitution are getting on the way. To refer only to the 2004 elections it is undoubtedly one of the remarkable consequences of the success of ISAF that the capital enjoys the greatest level of political freedom in Afghanistan and where an opposition party can emerge and operate in relative safety. The situation at the same time serves only to bring into relief a very unsatisfactory state of affairs outside of Kabul, where freedom of expression and association are more often threatened by factional interests of extremist forces. I will therefore reiterate our warmest welcome to General Gliemeroth and to NATO into this rather unique partnership that has developed between the people of Afghanistan and the international community. Ambassador Brahimi and all the members of the UN family are very keen to develop with NATO and General Gliemeroth a very close partnership on behalf of the conclusion of this process.

Thank you very much.

Moderator: I would now wish to invite the Deputy Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mr. Rizzo, to deliver his address.

Deputy Sec. General NATO: President Karzai, Excellencies, Generals, Ladies and Gentlemen, over the past months, the world's attention has been focused on crises and conflicts, some not far from here. But our ceremony today demonstrates that the international community remains committed to Afghanistan, to its people, and to its future. As of today, NATO will assume the strategic command, control and coordination of ISAF. The Alliance is taking on this mission for one simple reason: to ensure that ISAF has the support and the capability it needs to help Afghanistan achieve the peace and security this country deserves.

NATO nations have already played a key role in ISAF until now. They have provided over 90 per cent of the troops in ISAF, and the Alliance itself has provided support to the German-Dutch led ISAF III. So a greater role for NATO simply makes sense.

ISAF's name and mission will not change. The operation will continue to operate according to current and future UN resolutions. And under NATO's leadership, we will continue to welcome the very important contributions to ISAF from non-NATO countries as well. But what will change, as of today, is the level of commitment and capability NATO provides.

Until now, the international community has had to search every six months for new nations to lead the mission. That search is over. From now on, NATO will provide a continuing headquarters, and force commander, strategic co-ordination, command and control, and political direction. And it will do so as long as necessary and required.

NATO has long experience in leading and sustaining peace-support operations, and that experience will be brought to bear here in Afghanistan, in support of ISAF and the Afghan National Authority. We have a strong record of successfully ensuring peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, in full respect of the cultural and political situations in these areas. We look forward to working with you to create a record to be proud of here in Kabul.

This new mission is a reflection of NATO's ongoing transformation, and resolve, to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. But most of all, NATO's increased involvement demonstrates our nations' continuing, long-term commitment to stability and security for the Afghan people.

So to the people of Afghanistan, I say to you that we are here today to forge a strong partnership. A partnership, along with others in the international community, to assist you in achieving your own dreams and aspirations for peace and security, unity and freedom and human dignity and liberty. All principles we share with you. All principles upon which NATO was founded.

Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the people of Afghanistan, battered yet resilient, are looking to us for assistance. NATO's new role is proof that the international community will stay the course. And it is another important step in the creation of a stable and prospering future for this country. That, more than anything, is the significance, and the importance of today's ceremony.

Let us join our forces -- NATO, the international community and Afghans alike -- to build an Afghanistan safe and stable, free and respectful of human dignity. Thank you.

Moderator: The formal transfer of command will now take place. Could I invite the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, General Jones, Lt. General Van Heyst and Lt. General Gliemeroth to the podium. The formal change of command between ISAF 3 and ISAF 4 will be represented by the handing of the ISAF flag from Lt. General Van Heyst to Lt. General Gliemeroth. Change of Command takes place.

Lt. General Gliemeroth: Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished guests and, of course, comrades. First of all, thank you General Van Heyst for handing over the mission to me. I am grateful to command ISAF 4 and appreciate the trust and confidence placed in my soldiers and me. I not only speaking here for HQ, ISAF or myself, no I am speaking on behalf of all ISAF soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, and, of course, civilians down to the youngest trooper. Without doubt NATO's takeover of the ISAF demonstrates our nations' long term commitment to security, stability and the further development for the Afghan people. Not only will this mean a wider coalition of forces involved, it also stands for enhanced continuity provided by the Alliance through the subsequent strategic and operational guidance plus substantial resources. And all that of course in accordance with the Bonn process and United Nations security resolutions.

And also, ISAF's main mission will not change. NATO will operate under the ISAF banner and under an unchanged UN mandate, i.e. to assist the transitional authority in providing a secure environment. How else could adequate humanitarian aid, improvement of infrastructure as well as other reconstruction projects for the improvement of living conditions, take place. All in all for the benefit of the people of this proud nation. No doubt, we ISAF soldiers, yes, we are foreigners in your country. But although being foreign, we are serving to foster a peaceful, prosperous and truly multi-ethnic Afghanistan. And please let me emphasize that I can promise you that ISAF will continue to honor your cultural identity and respect for your rich traditions. Our operation in Afghanistan, as you know, is part of a larger coordinated international effort in order to assist you, Mr. President and your cabinet. This means not only providing security in the streets of this city but ISAF will continue to improve the federal security structures and means since Kabul and its environment must be safe for all in order to function as the national capital. Not the least a fully functional, safely operated Kabul international airport ought to be a viable, visible symbol of success and potential progress.

In addition to supporting the Afghan transitional authority in its responsibility for providing security throughout the country, ISAF will continue within its mandate to assist the build up and training of respective Afghan security forces, like the police force and the border police, and to some extent, of course, an Afghan national army. Related to all of these efforts we all in this room are fully aware of the fundamental importance of the Constitutional Loya Jirga ahead and the subsequent elections. In order to fulfill ISAF's mission I will strive for the closest possible links to the Afghan authorities, the UN and its agencies, and of course to all of the other key players in this environment. I will personally try to get more acquainted with this beautiful country, so rich in culture and history. And, of course, we will continue to further develop policies and approaches that were created by ISAF 3. In this context I would like to congratulate General Van Heyst on his outstanding achievements. Furthermore, I thank you Norbert for your team, your advise and your assistance. Ladies and gentlemen, today a new contingent of soldiers takes charge. And here again I am speaking of 31 countries. You can be sure that we understand the challenges ahead. And will through dedication and competence accomplish our mission. And I have no doubt that are assistance will turn out successfully for the benefit of Afghanistan.

Thank you for your attention.

The national anthems of Germany and the Netherlands are played.

Ceremony concludes.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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