Half of Afghanistan switching to local control: Karzai
More than half of Afghanistan will soon be under the control of local forces after President Hamid Karzai Sunday announced the second wave of a process which should see all NATO combat forces leave by 2014.
Karzai's office said that six provinces, seven cities and dozens of districts -- including three in Helmand, among Afghanistan's most dangerous areas -- will pass from foreign to local control.
The exact date for the transition process to start has not been decided but the long-awaited announcement is another step towards the withdrawal of most of the 140,000 mainly US foreign troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The second tranche of places which will transition is significantly larger than the first, which included seven areas and has been heralded as a success by officials.
It notably includes Nawa, Nad Ali and Marjah in Helmand, once seen as hotbeds of the insurgency but which NATO-led international forces now claim to have brought under control.
After a decade-long war which continues to rage across Afghanistan, particularly in the south and southeast, places which have already transitioned to Afghan control have faced continuing violence along with other parts.
"With today's decision by the president, over half the country's population would now be covered by the transition process," said a statement from Karzai's office which listed the places to be handed over.
The provinces being transferred in their entirety to local control in the second phase are Balkh, Daikundi, Kabul, Takhar, Samangan and Nimroz.
The cities being handed over are Jalalabad, Ghazni city, Maydan Shahr, Faizabad, Chaghcharan, Shibirghan and Qalay-I-Naw.
Jalalabad is one of Afghanistan's main cities, close to the border with Pakistan.
The statement listed over 40 districts around the country which would also transition in provinces including Badakhshan, Wardak and Nangarhar.
Karzai endorsed the locations proposed by a commission set up to oversee the transition, the statement said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the move, saying it showed the transition process was "firmly on track."
"It is driven by the determination of the Afghan people and sustained by the courage of the Afghan National Security Forces and of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)," he said in a statement.
"We will keep our commitment to training and supporting the Afghan security forces throughout the transition process, and beyond."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the handover of Nad Ali, which is in Britain's area of operation in Helmand.
"This announcement marks continued progress in the process of phased transition from an international to an Afghan security lead," he said.
"Circumstances remain challenging but steady and positive progress is being made."
Britain has the second-largest troop presence in the country at around 9,500.
Foreign forces are in Afghanistan helping the Western-backed government fight a bloody, Taliban-led insurgency which flared up following a US-led invasion shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
But amid a rising death toll, troubled domestic economies and the unpopularity of the Afghan war in many Western countries, troop withdrawals are now getting under way.
President Barack Obama has vowed to bring home 33,000 US forces by September next year.
While Western officials in Kabul praise the transition process so far, they acknowledge that challenges remain including Afghan government corruption, a weak state and lack of a properly functioning justice system.
© 2011 AFP