The command of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is changing hands, with Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford taking over from General John Allen.
Dunford is expected to be the force’s last commander, with the US committed to removing its combat troops from the country by the end of 2014.
“Today is not about change, it’s about continuity. What has not changed is the will of this coalition,” Dunford said in a change-of-command ceremony for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul on Sunday.
Afghan forces are expected to take over the lead role for security in Afghanistan this spring. The international force plans to hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghans by the end of 2014, with most international combat forces being withdrawn.
Former Iraq commander
Dunford will assume command of 68,000 US troops who make up the bulk of the coalition force of about 100,000, and will be the fifth top allied commander in Afghanistan in a five-year period.
He has served in Iraq and has been assistant commandant of the Marine Corps since October 2010.
Despite the persistence of the Taliban’s bloody battle against President Hamid Karzai’s government and NATO forces, Allen, who leaves to become NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, said the coalition was “on the road to winning”.
He stressed the Afghans’ role in taking over 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.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on his last day in command, Allen urged the Taliban to renounce violence if it wanted to play a part in Afghanistan’s future.
“If the Taliban wants to play in the future of Afghanistan, they’re going to have to give up the kind of violence toward the Afghan population, and the connection that they’ve had with al-Qaeda,” Allen said.
But the outgoing general also said that ultimately, it is up to the Taliban, the Afghan people and Karzai’s government to reach a solution to the country’s internal conflict.
It is still unclear how many troops Washington will leave behind in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Reports last month citing the US Defence Department suggested that between 3,000 and 9,000 troops would stay to focus on preventing al-Qaeda, which was sheltered by the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, from regaining a foothold in