NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Kabul, June 18, 2013

From Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATOThis is a day for Afghans to be proud. And I am proud to stand with you.

I would like to salute the brave and committed Afghan soldiers and veterans gathered here today. Men and women, from different ethnic groups, from all across the country. And I pay tribute to the families and loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country and protect their people.

They have fought to ensure that international terrorism no longer finds safe haven in Afghanistan. And many have shed their blood for this cause. We honour the memory of those whom we have lost.

We also pay special tribute today to the wounded servicemen.

In front of you are seated young soldiers from the Afghan National Security Forces and from the International Security and Assistance Force. You today represent all the brave servicemen from this country and from our 50 nation coalition who have sacrificed so much for our joint effort. We honour you.

I am equally proud of the determination and professionalism of our ISAF service members. From fifty nations across the world. Carrying out the mandate of the United Nations. . . .

Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces. Five years ago, Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today. Now you have 350,000 Afghan troops and police. A formidable force. And time and again, we have seen them dealing quickly and competently with complex attacks. Defeating the enemies of Afghanistan, and defending and protecting the Afghan people. . . .

At the NATO summit in Chicago last year, we agreed that by the middle of this year we would reach an important milestone, where your forces would be taking the lead for security across the country.

We can all be proud that we have delivered on this objective and that Afghan Forces today are taking the lead on security. They are doing so with remarkable resolve. And they deserve the full support of the Afghan people.

It has been tough. We have faced up to many challenges. And no doubt there will be more. We have kept to our roadmap. And we have kept to our timetable. With your announcement, we have now reached that milestone in our journey which marks the progress we have made.

As your forces step forward across the country, 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 those operations. And by the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed. At that time, Afghanistan will be fully secured by Afghans.

So today, our shared goal is in sight.

We still have 18 months of hard work ahead. And we must keep up the momentum.

From 2015, a new chapter will begin. We need to sustain, and build on, the progress we have made. And NATO is ready to play its part.

Together with our partners, we are planning a new and different mission. RESOLUTE SUPPORT. The aim is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. We will also play our part in the broader international efforts, to ensure the long-term sustainment of the Afghan security forces. This will be another visible demonstration that Afghanistan does not stand alone, now or in the future.

Excerpts from speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan.  (photo: NATO)