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Afghans to take over security in 17 new areas

October 26, 2011 |  9:13 am

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The Afghan police and army will soon take responsibility for safeguarding an additional 17 areas of the country, officials said Wednesday, accelerating a process meant to pave the way for ending the Western combat mission by 2014.

The zones scheduled for transition, as the process is known, are mainly in areas of the country where combat has been less fierce in recent months, such as the north and west. But they also include several hot spots, such as Helmand province in the south, whose capital Lashkar Gah was handed over to Afghan forces over the summer.

The list of areas is to be formally unveiled next week by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at an international conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Though the lineup is still being finalized, any further changes are expected to be minor, several Karzai aides said.

Northern provinces on the list include Balkh, whose capital, Mazar-e-Sharif, was handed over in July, together with Takhar and Badakshan. While the north has seen relatively low levels of fighting in the 10-year war, insurgents have been consolidating their presence there.

Afghanistan's east, the region closest to Pakistan’s tribal areas, emerged as a major battlefront during the warm-weather "fighting season" that is drawing to a close. All or part of several eastern provinces, though, are designated for a hand-over of security, including Ghazni, Wardak, Laghman and Nangarhar, all of which recently saw clashes. 

All told, the new batch of hand-overs will affect half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, officials said after a planning meeting in Kabul. The process is expected to stretch over the next 18 months.

Reviews have been mixed in some of the areas where Afghan security forces assumed control over the summer. Some previously peaceful transition zones were swiftly hit with a wave of attacks, and some provincial officials complained that their police forces were not large or well-equipped enough to take on the responsibility.


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Photo: Afghan security forces and Polish and U.S. soldiers talk with local elders during a patrol Friday in Ghazni province, one of the areas scheduled to be handed over to the Afghan police and army. Credit: Naweed Haqjoo / EPA