NATO begins Afghan mission
NATO is due on Monday to take command of security operations in southern Afghanistan, embarking on its most ambitious mission and hoping a new approach will break a grinding Taliban insurgency.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will take over at a small ceremony here from a US-led coalition that drove the extremist Taliban from government in 2001 and has since been hunting down its fighters.
The event in Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan, will see around 8,000 British, Canadian, Dutch and US troops fall under ISAF command.
The operation is NATO's most ambitious undertaking, eclipsing the air campaign against Serbia in 1999 when then strongman Slobodan Milosevic tried to crush an ethnic Albanian uprising in Kosovo.
The force will be more than twice the size of the coalition presence in the south last year and will boost the number of ISAF troops across the country to about 18,000.
The limited number of Afghan and foreign troops in the Taliban's heartland, an area adjoining Pakistan where many of the movement's fighters are said to be trained, has in part been blamed for increasing unrest in recent months.
Officials have said they expected the surge in violence ahead of the transfer, with media-savvy insurgents eager to play on fears among the nearly 39 contributing nations and exploit new troops entering the area.