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Afghanistan: U.S. Takes Over NATO Force

February 4, 2007 -- Britain has handed over control of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to the United States.

Speaking today in Kabul at a ceremony in marking the handover, President Hamid Karzai thanked British commander General David Richards and said that the Afghan people would always remember and admire NATO's assistance.

General Richards, who hands the rotating command to U.S. General Dan McNeil, said 2006 was a year of success for ISAF and the Afghan security forces, adding that the Taliban "did not achieve a single objective."

"NATO and the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] will not be militarily defeated and importantly that reassures the population that their government and the international community will succeed," Richards said.

During Richards' nine months in charge, the 37-nation ISAF has increased from 9,000 to more than 33,000 troops.

Spring Offensive

Security remains the major concern for many in the country. 2006 was the bloodiest year since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001.

U.S. and NATO leaders have recently warned of the possibility of a spring offensive. The Taliban has said recently that it has 2,000 suicide bombers ready for what it says will be the worst year yet for foreign troops.

The Taliban seized the town of Musa Qala in a key opium-growing region in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province on February 1. Four months ago British troops withdrew following a peace deal with tribal leaders -- a deal criticized by the United States.

NATO forces have launched an offensive to retake the town, killing the local Taliban chief Mullah Abdul Ghafoor in an air strike today.

Outgoing General Richards said that a large group of people in the town were prepared to stand up to the Taliban.

"The Taliban have come out in their true colours and have now turned against them.... We will put the tribal elders back in control of Musa Qala and we will kick the Taliban out and defeat them," Richards said.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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