KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan forces took over responsibility for the security of the capital, Kabul, on Thursday, in what is largely viewed as a symbolic move.
Although there are no plans for foreign forces to pull out of the city any time soon, the move is also meant to reflect the growing strength of the Afghan army and police force.
While the Taliban insurgency has strengthened this year, with more suicide and roadside bombs and more people killed than at any time since 2001, Afghan forces are steadily growing in size and Kabul has seen fewer attacks in 2008 than in the same period last year.
There are currently around 57,000 soldiers serving in the Afghan army and that number is expected to rise to 120,000 over the coming years. On top of this, there are some 82,000 in Afghanistan’s police force.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been in overall charge of the security in the capital.
“Today, Thursday at 3 o’clock (11:30 a.m. British time), the commander of NATO forces and the Ministry of Defence will sign an agreement for the transfer of security of the city of Kabul from ISAF forces to Afghan national security forces,” Defence Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said in a statement before the formal transfer.
President Hamid Karzai announced the handover to Afghan security forces in July.
The handover is being largely played down by ISAF, who have said there will be an international military presence in the capital for some time to come.
Some 70,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S.-led coalition are based in Afghanistan, fighting a Taliban insurgency to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government.
Many of the international forces have bases inside the capital and conduct frequent patrols within and outside the city. ISAF headquarters are also located in the capital.
While the number of incidents in Kabul in down, the capital has suffered higher-profile attacks this year, such as the January suicide bombing of a luxury hotel, a bid to kill Karzai in April and the bombing of the Indian Embassy last month which killed 58 people.
More than six years after the Taliban were overthrown, many Afghans are growing increasingly frustrated with the failure of their government and foreign forces to bring security.
Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Alex Richardson