Brussels: Afghanistan will face further violence next year after NATO ends its longest ever combat mission, chief Jens Stoltenberg admitted Monday, but he insisted local security forces could stem the tide.
Stoltenberg, who meets new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani later Monday, said a recent surge in attacks in Kabul was timed to grab headlines as the Afghan government met its international backers.
"There are going to be violent attacks also next year but the Afghan national security forces are capable and the time has come to leave responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves," he said.
"The Taliban are still able to conduct high-profile terrorist attacks but less capable of seizing and holding territory," he added.
In the latest violence, a suicide attack on a funeral in northern Afghanistan killed at least nine people Monday.
This follows a series of attacks in the capital Kabul which have heightened concern that the costly gains of NATO`s 13-year operation in Afghanistan could slip away.
From January 1, NATO will run a training and advisory mission with about 12,500 troops, mostly US, down from the combat mission`s peak of 130,000 in 2010.
President Ghani, who came to power in September, insists he will bring peace to Afghanistan after decades of conflict and that he is ready to talk to any insurgent group to do so.
Afghan soldiers and police meanwhile have suffered huge casualties, with more than 4,600 killed this year.
Ghani and chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah visit NATO headquarters in Brussels Monday before attending a donors` conference in London.
"Our focus now is to end the NATO (combat) mission," Stoltenberg said, adding that he was convinced the Afghan government and its army of some 350,000 would cope.
"We have done what we set out to do," he said, looking back on the war which was launched to oust the Taliban government in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States.
"Our nations are more secure and Afghanistan is stronger."