(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Turkey takes over ISAF command

[Afghanistan] Turkish soldiers in Kabul.

Turkey has taken over command of the UN-mandated multinational peacekeeping force - the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) - in a colourful military ceremony in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"This is important, and we are happy to take over command as the leading nation of ISAF," the spokesman for the Turkish contingent, Col Samet Oz, told IRIN on Thursday. "The handover reflects the confidence of the UN and the international community in Turkey."

Turkey, a Muslim country and NATO member, has been participating in peace support operations in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Macedonia.

ISAF comprises about 5,100 troops from 19 countries. It was deployed in Kabul in January this year after chaos struck the Afghan capital following the demise of the hardline Taliban regime.

The handover ceremony, attended by newly elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, was held in the old military sports club, now housing ISAF headquarters.

While the British flag was lowered and the Turkish flag raised, the outgoing British commander of ISAF, Maj-Gen John McColl, handed over the command to his Turkish counterpart, Maj-Gen Akin Zorlu, who will lead the force for at least the next six months.

Turkey has already deployed some 1,000 troops, but these will now be augmented by another 400. They will take over the ISAF headquarters and assume control of Kabul's civil and military airports.

Reflecting on Turkey's longstanding relations with Afghanistan, Oz pointed out that the two countries had enjoyed friendly relations for nearly a century. "Our relations go back to 1921 when Afghanistan sent its first batch of officers for training to Turkey. Before the communist coup in 1978, the Afghan military followed the Turkish model," he explained.

Most Kabul residents are satisfied with ISAF's work. On Wednesday, a day before the handover ceremony, the Afghan Loya Jirga, or grand council, awarded a medal to McColl for his outstanding service to the county. Brahimi described ISAF's support for the Afghan authorities as "international cooperation at its very best".

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