19 Jul 2011

NATO hands control of Bamiyan to Afghan forces

5:36 am on 19 July 2011

NATO has handed control of an Afghan province where the main New Zealand force is stationed to Afghan security forces.

Bamiyan is the first of seven areas to be passed to local troops under a plan announced by President Hamid Karzai in March.

The central Afghan province is one of the country's most secure but it is a poor region, heavily reliant on foreign aid.

The takeover has been marked with a special ceremony in Bamiyan police headquarters, attended by Afghan government ministers and foreign ambassadors.

The ceremony was not announced in advance and was not covered by local television for fears of provoking an attack by Taliban forces.

NATO is handing over control of security throughout the country to the Afghan police and army in a gradual process due to be completed by the end of 2014.

New Zealand defence, police and civilian staff have been serving in the Bamiyan Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told Morning Report that Afghan forces have taken a lead role in the province on security issues for some time, with New Zealand in a support role. The formal handover was deeply symbolic but does not involve a change in operational style, he said.

In March Mr McCully said there were about 140 defence staff in the province and that number was unlikely to change for at least the next year.

There are about 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, almost 100,000 of whom are American.