"This is truly a historic moment. Afghanistan's future is in your hands," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a ceremony in Kabul.
What it means is that for the first time since the American-led invasion in October 2001, the Afghans will plan, execute and lead all missions against the Taliban and other enemies of the country, including making combat decisions.
"This is a day for Afghans to be proud. And I'm proud to stand with you," Fogh Rasmussen said.
Americans and their allies will supply air support when necessary or provide assistance on the ground but only when either is requested by Afghan commanders. The U.S. and NATO will mainly stay at bases that will eventually be turned over to national forces or else be dismantled if Afghans can’t maintain control of them.
It’s expected that the number of U.S. casualties, which has dropped over time anyway, will decline further although the potential for danger exists from so-called “insider attacks” and whenever Americans clear roadside bombs from highways.
This latest milestone in the 12-year-long war might also mean that the bulk of U.S. and NATO forces could be withdrawn in 2014 at a faster pace than originally forecast if Afghanistan’s soldiers and police show they’re up to the task of preventing the Taliban from making any significant territorial gains or unleashing terrorist strikes against them and civilians.
On a related note, as the transition ceremony was taking place on Tuesday, a large bomb exploded in Kabul, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more, according to the Ministry of Interior. The blast was in the Pul-e-Surkh area of the western part of the city, miles away from the site of the ceremony.
The blast was the latest in a particularly fierce Taliban summer offensive this year.
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