Over the next week, lead security responsibility in Afghanistan will shift from NATO to the Afghan Army and Police in seven areas: the provinces of Bamiyan, Panjshir, Kabul (minus Sarobi District) and the municipalities of Mazar e-Sharif, Herat, Lashkar Gah, and Mehtar Lam. President Karzai trumpeted this important decision earlier this year and offered a vision for his country during a graduation ceremony at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan:  

It is right that we have brought democracy to Afghanistan. It is right that we have improved the situation in some spheres. It is right that we have laid some foundations. But the Afghan people are still not safe….We wish that one day the Afghan people think that the Afghan government, its agencies, Afghan security personnel, Afghan courts and attorneys are serving them not posing threats to them. If we achieve that day, undoubtedly, Afghanistan will stand on its own feet and be built by its own people. And it will take steps towards a bright future with hope.


To be sure, transition marks an important milestone in the history of post-2001 Afghanistan. Dozens of countries are supporting Afghanistan today to improve security conditions and create a foundation where Afghans can provide security for Afghanistan. While the Taliban and other insurgent groups remain fixed on conducting attacks, there are positive signs too. Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser Rea, commanding officer of the second battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, recently observed, “for the first time in recent years, the locals are living through a summer … without any real fighting season starting and that is a real sea change for them. They are now looking at what the (Afghan) government can offer,” This is promising for both the citizens of Lashkar Gah, but also other villages across central Helmand.

At the same time that ISAF is supporting geographic transition over the next three years, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) is supporting institutional transition. NTM–A has been charged with building Afghan capacity in four primary areas: training and equipping the Afghan National Army, Air Force, and Police; developing the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense; improving the country’s human capital; and investing in Afghanistan’s physical capital. Only after Afghanistan’s security institutions are self-sufficient and self-sustaining will it be possible for the Afghan government to make geographic transition gains durable. 

Carrying out these missions are men and women from 33 countries. On any given day, we have 500 advisors assisting Afghan officials in the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior initiate strategies, develop plans, and execute budgets. At 70 training sites across Afghanistan, we have trainers teaching military and police skills from marksmanship, intelligence analysis, logistics to warfighting capabilities. Both Afghans and our multinational team are working hard to recruit, train, equip, field, and partner with Afghan soldiers, airmen, and police. In partnership, “shoulder to shoulder,” we all recognize that a well-trained and professional Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police are essential to geographic transition and vital to realize the gains of the international investment in Afghanistan. To be sure, Afghanistan faces both internal and external challenges, but we are inspired by an Afghan proverb, Qatara qatara, darya mesha (drop by drop, a river is formed).  

Although we have come a long way, we recognize that transition is only the first of many difficult steps in the future. Days and months that will be challenged by difficulties, marred by setbacks, and faced with dangers. However, reinforced by the bonds of partnership, professionalism, and pride, I am convinced that the path we are on together developing the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police will provide the Afghan people with the security they deserve, the prosperity they desire and a future they determine for themselves.

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.