KABUL: Afghan security forces were on high alert Wednesday to prevent Taliban attacks marking the end of the year as NATO combat operations close down and a new “train and support” mission takes over.
NATO´s war in Afghanistan was formally brought to an end on Sunday at a ceremony in Kabul, when the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was replaced by the US-led mission “Resolute Support”.
Wednesday will also see the last 150 French soldiers in Afghanistan hand over responsibilities at Kabul´s military airport to a Turkish unit.
A ceremony will be held at the airport and a memorial unveiled to the French war dead.
France, which withdrew all its combat troops from the country two years ago, lost 89 soldiers and saw 700 injured in the war since 2001.
The conflict against the Taliban still rages across Afghanistan, and an estimated 17,000 foreign soldiers will stay on to assist the local police and army, who face a major challenge as the international military presence declines.
The foreign force will consist of the 12,500-strong NATO mission, most of them US troops, and a US counter-terrorism operation outside the NATO remit, though final numbers remain unclear.
“Our security forces are taking necessary actions to make sure terrorists won´t have the chance to sabotage anything,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.
“Pre-emptive operations will be launched in some parts and there will be more security patrols everywhere, particularly in Kabul.”
Afghan security forces will hold celebrations on Thursday marking the complete transfer of responsibility from NATO.
The Taliban have launched high-profile strikes in the capital during the closing weeks of the combat mission, targeting foreign guesthouses, diplomatic convoys, the French cultural centre and Afghan army buses.
The Islamist militants issued a jubilant message after NATO´s ceremony on Sunday, saying: “We consider this step a clear indication of their defeat.”
The end of NATO´s combat mission brought “the longest war in American history… to a responsible conclusion”, US President Barack Obama said, but insurgency violence is rising.
Civilian and military casualties reached new highs this year, with many people fearing a return to civil war.