KABUL (Reuters) – NATO has approved plans to take charge of security responsibilities in Afghanistan’s volatile south in what will likely be one of its most testing missions ever, a spokesman said on Thursday.
The plans, approved on Wednesday in Brussels, would now be put to 11 other non-NATO members of the coalition for approval.
A civilian spokesman for the alliance, Mark Laity, told a news conference the remaining members of the coalition would report back by Friday.
“We are not expecting any difficulty at all,” Laity said.
The military must then gives it final approval to the mission, which come into effect on or around July 31, he said.
NATO is taking over security in the south at a time when Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest phase of violence since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001.
Until now, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force has been operating in the capital, Kabul, and the safer north and west of the country. U.S. troops have borne the brunt of fighting the insurgency in the south and east.
“For NATO it is the most challenging mission since the end of the Cold War,” Laity said.
More than 1,700 people have been killed since the start of the year in attacks, mainly in the south, by Taliban guerrillas and U.S.-led coalition operations.
Most of the victims have been militants, according to Afghan and foreign commanders, but the death toll also includes civilians, aid workers and Afghan forces. More than 70 foreign troops, including at least six NATO-led troops, have also been killed.
The Taliban have vowed to drive out foreign forces from Afghanistan and topple President Hamid Karzai’s government.