Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday announced a new transfer of security control from NATO that will see local forces take responsibility for 75% of Afghanistan’s population.
Kapisa province, where French troops are based, will be among 11 provinces to come under Afghan control, a statement from the president’s office said.
It is the third phase of the transition of military control in the war-torn country and another step towards the withdrawal of 130,000 US-led NATO troops by the end of 2014.
A file photo of Afghan President Hamid Karzai
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the move.
“The completion of transition at the end of 2014 will mark the end of NATO’s combat role, but not the end of our engagement,” he said in a statement.
“NATO is committed to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, and to providing the training which the Afghan forces will still need, beyond 2014.”
The commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), US General John Allen, also voiced support for the latest stage of the five-phase transition process.
“President Karzai’s announcement of the third group of areas to enter transition is a testament to the capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF),” he said.
“Afghanistan continues to move forward in securing the sovereign future of their country and the security of its borders, and this is another step in bringing the hope of greater prosperity to the Afghan people.”
ISAF noted that the complete process of transition in an area can take 12-18 months. Government officials said the third phase would start immediately.
The list of areas intended for the third tranche covers 122 districts, bringing the total number of districts to 260 in all 34 provinces. Every capital of every province is now in a designated area of transition, ISAF said.
The inclusion of Kapisa province was significant as French president-elect Francois Hollande has pledged to pull out France’s 3,400 troops this year.
“In today’s national security council meeting it was decided 11 provinces will be transitioned in the handover, including Kapisa, Uruzgan and Parwan,” presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told a news conference.
“Seventy-five percent of the population will come under local security control.”
Australian forces currently operate in Uruzgan province.
The first two phases - the first in July last year - have already put 50% of the population under Afghan control.
NATO forces are in Afghanistan helping Karzai’s government fight a decade-long insurgency by hardline Taliban Islamists who were ousted from power in a US-led invasion shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States.
But the war is increasingly unpopular in the US and other contributing nations, with opinion polls showing a desire to get out as soon as possible.
NATO has been training a 350,000-strong Afghan security force to take over and is quick to praise their growing skills in coping with the Taliban, but officials acknowledge that challenges remain in the transition process.
Among them are Afghan government corruption, a weak state and the lack of a properly functioning justice system - giving rise to widespread fears of a new civil war when the Western forces leave.
Karzai has made moves towards peace talks with the Taliban, but the insurgents reject his administration as puppets of the United States.
The announcement of the third phase of transition came on the day that a senior envoy in Karzai’s High Peace Council was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Kabul in broad daylight.