Mazar-i-Sharif: NATO troops
on Saturday handed control of Afghanistan`s northern capital
Mazar-i-Sharif to local forces amid rising security fears just
days after it was hit by a deadly bombing.
Mazar-i-Sharif is the sixth of seven areas to
transition to Afghan control, but critics say the timetable is
politically motivated and scepticism is running high over
Afghan abilities to ward off a trenchant Taliban insurgency.
Underscoring the threat, a suicide bomber killed four
people in the city on Wednesday, in an attack that the
provincial police chief said was carried out "to create chaos
and disrupt the transition of security".
Until recently considered one of the safest Afghan
cities, Mazar-i-Sharif was thrown into turmoil in April when
demonstrators, protesting against the burning of a Koran by a
US pastor, attacked a UN compound and killed seven foreign
The killings raised fears that plans were being rushed
for Afghans to take control of security from German troops,
who lead coalition efforts in the city.
A handover ceremony was held at the Afghan army`s
headquarters, attended by cabinet ministers and the German
ambassador, with a NATO flag lowered and an Afghan flag raised
after local soldiers sung the national anthem.
Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor raised
the issue of Pakistan, considered a vital sponsor of any
future peace talks to end the war but which is believed to
harbour insurgent leaders along its lawless border with
"We are prepared to defend our city against the
terrorists, but the insecurities will continue as long as the
terrorist sanctuaries remain in neighbouring Pakistan," said
Noor at the ceremony.
He also used the moment to criticise the work of
foreign development experts in the city, but at the same time
urged more help from NATO in supporting with its
Violence is at a record high in the insurgency against
the Western-backed government, and transition comes as 150,000
NATO-led troops begin a gradual withdrawal designed to recall
all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.