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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 15:03 GMT
Afghan force changes leaders
German soldier (R) smiles at Kabul children
German soldiers take on greater responsibilities
Germany and the Netherlands have formally taken command of the international security force in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Although the name and face of Isaf's commander may change, its purpose will not

General van Heyst, new Isaf commander

Turkish General Akin Zorlu handed over his command to German General Norbert van Heyst and Dutch General Robert Bertholee at a ceremony on Monday.

Just hours later, a rocket was reported to have landed near the main peacekeeping force base in Kabul.

General Zorlu commanded the 4,200-strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for the past eight months.

The 22-nation force has maintained security in the Afghan capital since its deployment in December 2001 following the ouster of the Taleban regime by US-led forces.

Shared command

German Defence Minister Peter Struck, on a brief visit to Kabul, attended the hand over ceremony.

General Akin Zorlu
General Zorlu: Warned of fall out from Iraq

Relinquishing his command, General Zorlu expressed satisfaction with the Isaf's performance under him.

"We have considerably improved the security situation and made a significant contribution to the normalisation of life in the city," he said.

The BBC's Kylie Morris in Kabul says that the Turks were generally thought to have a done a good job, respecting Afghan customs and engaging with local people.

General Van Heyst said that "although the name and face of Isaf's commander may change, its purpose will not."

General Van Heyst will command the multinational force for the next six months with General Bertholee serving as his deputy.

Although Kabul's security situation has improved considerably since then, there have been several attacks on foreign soldiers in recent weeks.

And violence continues to plague Afghanistan's many provinces where armed factions and gangs fight for control or plunder.

Iraq fears

President Hamid Karzai's government has been asking for Isaf's expansion and its deployment to other Afghan cities.

Mr Struck has been urging the Western military alliance Nato to take over Isaf from the United Nations.

He says Washington supports the idea and that he will ask for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's views.

The change in Isaf's leadership comes at a time of heightened concern over increased violence in and around Kabul as international forces hunt for Taleban and al-Qaeda remnants.

In addition, preparations for a possible war with Iraq are deepening anxieties.

General Zorlu says any US attack on Iraq will be seen by many Afghans as "an attack on the whole Muslim world", and endanger Westerners in Kabul.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kylie Morris
"Firing of rockets to the east of the city"

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14 Jan 03 | South Asia
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