KHYBER AGENCY - The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) started withdrawing its military equipment from Afghanistan on Sunday as at least 25 containers crossed the Torkham border point heading to Karachi for shipment, official sources said.
It was the first consignment of 25 containers heading towards Karachi port via Torkham through Pakistani soil, sources said.
Agencies add: Pakistan customs officials said the first convoy of containers, carrying US military equipment from a key Nato base in Afghanistan, was cleared and was allowed to proceed to Karachi.
An official for a private company, responsible for shipment of the US cargo from Afghanistan, has also confirmed the US equipment withdrawal. Fawad Khan, spokesman for the ‘Bilal Associates’ said his company cleared the US defense equipment at the Torkham border point on the Pakistani side of the border in strict security. “The convoy left for Karachi after customs clearance,” he told a private TV channel. Khan said the second fleet of containers of military equipment will also reach Torkham from Bagram very soon.
The US plans to withdraw several thousand troops from the war-torn Afghanistan this year and the NATO has set 2014 for a complete withdrawal.
The United States, which has currently more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of nearly 150,000 Nato force, plans to withdraw all its combat troops by 2014.
Top US military officials had earlier stated they would need Pakistan’s role in exit strategy and the country’s land routes will be crucial for troops and equipment withdrawal.
Meanwhile, US Marine General Joseph Dunford, expected to oversee the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, took control of the Nato-led mission on Sunday, in an elaborate ceremony which emphasised the country’s sovereignty.
Dunford takes over from US Marine General John Allen, who ended a 19-month tour which was arguably one of the most difficult periods in the war, now in its eleventh year.
“Today is not about change, it’s about continuity. What has not changed is the will of this coalition,” Dunford told a crowd of foreign and Afghan officials in the barricaded headquarters of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was absent from the change of command ceremony despite receiving an invitation from Isaf. A spokesman for Karzai declined to comment.
Allen, who directed Isaf’s transfer of most security across the country to the Afghan army and police, delivered an emotional speech stressing the nation’s sovereignty, an issue that has been a thorn in Karzai’s relationship with his Western backers.
“Afghanistan is no longer the place between empires,” Allen said, referring to a country where “imperial ambition and dynamics have played out ... for generation after generation”.
Located between Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia, Afghanistan has been subject to invasions since the ancient Greeks, through to the 19th century ‘Great Game’ scramble for power between Britain and Russia and the last more than 30 years of conflict.
Allen also underlined the role of the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces, who are expected to take over responsibility for all security by the middle of the year.
“Afghan forces (are) defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens. This is victory. This is what winning looks like,” Allen said from a podium covered in an Afghan rug to enthusiastic applause.
Allen also stressed the role education is playing in changing the tide of public opinion in Afghanistan against Taliban insurgents, who banned girls from most schools. He earlier told Reuters that advancing women’s rights was key to preventing the Taliban from regaining support.
The White House said last month it would nominate Allen as Nato’s supreme allied commander in Europe, after the Pentagon cleared him of professional misconduct over emails to a Florida socialite linked to a scandal that led his predecessor, David Petraeus, to resign as director of the CIA.
Allen said victory over the insurgency led by the Taliban would “never be marked by a date, a point in time in the calendar” but insisted the effort would prevail.
“The insurgency will be defeated over time by legitimate and well-trained Afghan forces,” he said.
Bismillah Khan, Afghanistan’s defence minister, thanked Allen for his “honest and earnest efforts” to ensure security in the war-torn country and said there had been “great progress” during his tenure.