'Historic day' as Afghans formally take over security from NATO troops


Afghan President Hamid Karzai


Sean Gallup

On what is being heralded as a "historic day," US-led NATO forces formally handed over the country's national security to Afghan forces Tuesday.

The announcement was marked, however, by car bomb targeting an Afghan lawmaker that killed three civilians instead.

The bombing was a stark reminder of how dangerous Afghanistan remains despite the withdrawal of international troops after a 12-year-long war.

The Associated Press reported that violence in the country is at its highest levels in 12 years, prompting concerns that the pull out of NATO troops may be premature.

"You are the sons and guardians of this country, and it is your responsibility to protect it," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told his troops at a handover ceremony in Kabul, according to CNN. "I wish a long-term peace in Afghanistan."

During the announcement, Karzai also said that he will soon send representatives to Qatar to discuss peace with the Taliban.

Senior officials from the Obama administration also told NBC News that US representatives would meet the Taliban for negotiations in Qatar's capital, Doha.

The US' conditions for negotiating with the Taliban include the group cutting its ties with Al Qaeda, ending the violence and accepting the Afghani constitution, the officials told NBC.

More from GlobalPost: Karzai: American foreign policy caused 9/11

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that it was a "historic day."

"The main effort of our forces is shifting from combat to support. We will continue to help Afghan troops in operations, if needed, but we will no longer plan, execute or lead these operations," said Rasmussen during the ceremony.

"By the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed."

The handover will mean that US and NATO troops will only play a supporting role to Afghan troops.

BBC News reported that casualties among Afghan troop have been climbing steadily as NATO winds down its military forces — currently numbering about 100,000, down from a high of 140,000 in 2011.

The United States has about 66,000 troops in Aghanistan, a number which is expected to be cut in half by the end of 2014, though the exact number of troops to remain in Afghanistan is still unclear.

By the end of that year all NATO combat troops are expected to have left the country and will be replaced by a force of trainers and advisers — a decision contingent upon the Afghan government's consent.

More from GlobalPost: Afghan security forces face first fighting season alone