Yesterday, it was my honor to represent NATO and ISAF at the transition ceremony in the western Afghan city of Herat. Herat is Afghanistan’s third largest city and one of its oldest; founded 2,700 years ago, Herat still serves as an important link among the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. Alongside landmarks of the past, there are signs that Herat is being reborn. Through international assistance, nearly a billion dollars will be invested over the next three years in Herat. Trade links are being re-established, commerce is developing, and security is returning.

Given progress in Herat, it was one of seven areas President Karzai selected to transition first. To mark this historic moment when Afghans assumed security lead, there were both civilian and military ceremonies. The civilian ceremony was well attended by community leaders and senior government leaders, notably Herat’s Governor Daud Saba, President Karzai’s transition coordinator Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Defense Minister Wardak, and other ministers from Kabul. In spite of the heat, during the military ceremony, a group of young girls from Herat participated through song; this reminded us all how important it is to bring stability for these children to grow up without fear of war.

For those of us who attended, two things stood out during the transition ceremonies—the depth of pride Afghans feel for their country and their readiness to continue the long journey of rebuilding Afghanistan after three decades of war. Ashraf Ghani made perhaps the most impassioned speech and noted that today’s army is of greater quality than the army he observed two years ago. Personally surprised at the professionalism, Dr. Ghani urged those in attendance to counter the inaccurate negative images projected about the Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police. He admitted that even he did not believe that his nation had the capacity to build a force as capable as what he sees today, but it exists. Dr. Ghani noted the sacrifices that have been made by Afghans for Afghans and that geographic transition is a message to anti-government forces that the Afghan security forces are ready to defend the nation. Transition is also a message of gratitude to the international community.

Dr. Ghani’s view of Afghanistan’s security forces is reassuring to us at NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) given our mandate to train, equip, and field Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police units. The 33 countries that compose NTM-A have been working hard to give Afghans the tools they need to defend their borders, combat the insurgency, and provide security for their people. At the time NTM-A became operational in November 2009, security transition that began this week was not even discussed. Instead, the focus was simply on reversing the negative growth trends of the Afghan National Security Force and producing soldiers and police to meet the needs of counterinsurgency operations. Quality and quantity were then seen as two mutually exclusive principles. However, given the size of Afghanistan and international expectations, the army and police must be well-trained, professional, and service-oriented. These traits were on display in Herat, where Afghans assumed security lead. As Minister of Defense Wardak made clear to us, “this is our national responsibility to take over our security and defend our country.” Through NATO’s assistance, we are helping the Minister and people of Afghanistan develop 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. Photo credit NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.