Spain bade farewell Wednesday to the province of Badghis, its zone of responsibility in the war in Afghanistan since 2005, and turned over to Afghan authorities its base here.

Spanish Defense Minister Pedro Morenes presided at a ceremony at which the flags of Spain and NATO were lowered and that of Afghanistan raised above the base.

In remarks to Afghan civilian and military authorities, Morenes emphasized Spain's commitment to peace, justice and prosperity between and among peoples.

He noted that more than 29,000 Spaniards have done tours of duty in Afghanistan since August 2004 and that 98 of them have died carrying out their mission.

Present for the occasion were Badghis Gov. Ahmadullah Alizahi and the mayor of Qala-i-Naw, Abubaker, who said that Wednesday is an historic day for the security and governability of the region and the country.

After saying that "the day we have long awaited has arrived and all our hopes have been fulfilled," the governor said that "we will never forget (our) Spanish military friends" who have laid down their lives in Afghanistan.

The handing over of Badghis is one of the main milestones of the Spanish withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is scheduled to be completed next year, as agreed at the NATO summit in Lisbon.

Morenes, who landed at the Herat airport early in the day, traveled by helicopter to the Qala-i-Naw base, which since 2009 has housed the bulk of the Spanish military contingent in the Central Asian country.

Currently, Spain has 989 troops stationed in Afghanistan, but that number will be reduced in the coming weeks to 660. EFE