Nato has agreed to take command of Afghanistan’s international peacekeeping force in the summer. The 4,500-strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was set up after the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.
It has been under a six-month rotating command system.
The decision was made unanimously by the ambassadors of the 19-member military alliance at the request of Germany and the Netherlands, the two countries now leading the force.
It will be the first time since its creation in 1949 that Nato has taken charge of a mission outside the north Atlantic area.
Nato will take over strategic command and control of the peacekeeping force, which has troops from 29 countries, although the soldiers will continue to operate under Isaf banners.
France, which correspondents say fears Nato is becoming dominated by the United States, initially resisted the move but has dropped its objections.
The focus of Isaf is to provide security for the Afghan administration in and around Kabul.
A separate US-led coalition force of 11,500 personnel is hunting Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters in the rest of the nation.
A Nato official said the organisation’s role would “add stability and maintain continuity”.
“There was a growing problem in having to switch command every six months, and there are only a limited number of nations that can lead such a mission,” the official said.
Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson has also said the rotation system does not give the impression that Nato members and other nations are interested in a long-term peacekeeping commitment.
Nato will send military personnel to run the headquarters in Kabul and provide a military commander to be appointed by Nato Supreme Allied Commander, US Marine Corps General James Jones.
No specific date has been given for the handover.
Other non-Nato military forces will also be invited to contribute, officials said.
Nato is undergoing a radical transformation from a Cold War-era bloc to a post-11 September force focused on threats worldwide.
“This decision puts to rest the debate about Nato’s relevance,” said one diplomat.