KABUL, Aug 11: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) began its first operation outside Europe in its 54-year history on Monday when it took command of peacekeepers in the Afghan capital.

At a ceremony in Kabul, German Defence Minister Peter Struck said Nato’s job was to ensure Afghanistan did not become a safe haven for terrorism again.

“There is still a lot to be done,” he said. “Afghanistan must not lapse back into anarchy or chaos. Afghanistan must not again become the home of global terror as was the case under the rule of the Taliban.”

Germany and the Netherlands had held joint command of the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force until the handover, which was attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen James Jones.

At the ceremony, Lt-Gen Norbert van Heyst, outgoing commander of ISAF, transferred command to another German three-star general, Goetz Gliemeroth, from Nato command.

The open-ended command is a strategic departure from NATO’s Cold War role of defending its immediate borders and officials say it stems from a post-September 11 perception.

At a news conference after the ceremony, Jones called it “a signal moment in the history of the alliance”.

“We are making a clear statement of transition, which is from the 20th Century defensive bipolar world, into the multi-polar flexible need for rapid response across a myriad of threats.”

PRESSURE: The mission comes amid US efforts to get Nato to play a part in stabilising post-war Iraq, where US troops come under almost daily attack, but it remains unclear how broad a role the alliance will take on in Afghanistan.

The US-backed Afghan government and the UN have repeatedly urged the ISAF’s expansion into the lawless provinces, where factional rivalries and a resurgent Taliban guerilla movement pose mounting security problems for reconstruction work and elections due to be held next year.—Reuters

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