( July 31, 2006 ) - The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force today assumed command of the Southern region of Afghanistan from US-led Coalition forces, further extending ISAFs mission since NATO took command of the ISAF mission in Kabul in August 2003.
NATO Secretary General, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said it was an historic day for NATO. "This is one of the most challenging tasks NATO has every taken on, but it is a critical contribution to international security, and a demonstration of our commitment to the people of Afghanistan."
NATO-ISAF, which operates under a UN mandate, assists the Government of Afghanistan in maintaining security in its area of operations. NATO-ISAF had previously expanded from Kabul into 13 provinces of northern and western Afghanistan, regions in which it also commands the military components of nine Provincial Reconstruction Teams. NATO-ISAF is made up of 37 nations from NATO and non-NATO states, showing the level of international support for the mission.
The southern Afghanistan area of operations includes six provinces - Day Kundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul. The NATO-ISAF nations operating in Regional Command South are Australia, Britain, Canada, Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Romania and the United States. NATO-ISAF forces have been flowing into the South for several months, preparing for the transfer of authority, and when fully deployed will total about 8000 troops in the area, bringing the total ISAF force level to about 18500.
The US-led Coalition retains responsibility for Afghanistan's eastern region, also known as Regional Command East. Afghan and Coalition forces there conduct regular combat patrols to defeat the Taliban and related movements, and the Coalition will also retain its counter-terrorist mission throughout Afghanistan.
Since May, ISAF has been led by NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, commanded by British Army Lt. Gen. David Richards. "NATO is here for the long-term, for as long as the Government and people of Afghanistan require our assistance," said Richards. "We are committed to Afghanistan and its future."