Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday announced a new transfer of security control from NATO that will see local forces take responsibility for 75 percent 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 U.S.-led NATO troops by the end of 2014.
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), U.S. 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.
“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.
Australian forces currently have the lead in Uruzgan province.
“Seventy-five percent of the population will come under local security control,” by the end of the phase, said Faizi.
The first two tranches -- the first in July last year -- have already put 50 percent of the population under Afghan control.
In March, U.S. President Barack Obama said there were no plans for “sudden” changes to the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and confirmed NATO forces will switch to a support role next year.
Despite a number of bloody incidents involving U.S. troops in recent weeks, Obama said the United States would be sticking with a timetable already agreed with its NATO partners.
“I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’re going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have,” Obama, the nation’s commander-in-chief told a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron after White House talks.
“We have already taken out 10,000 of our troops. We’re slated to draw down an additional 23,000 by this summer.”
Obama said in their talks the two leaders had “reaffirmed the transition plan” which sets out “shifting to a support role in 2013 in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility in 2014.”
“We’re going to complete this mission and we’re going to do it responsibly and NATO will make sure that Afghanistan never becomes a place for an attack on our countries,” Obama told a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the White House Rose Garden.
Cameron meanwhile vowed he would not “give up” on the Afghanistan war even though Britain was in the final stages of the military mission there.
“Britain has fought alongside America ever since the start. We have 9,500 soldiers still serving,” he recalled.
And he said he believed “the situation is considerably improved” with the U.S. surge in addition to the “additional UK troops that we put in had had a transformative effect. The level of insurgent attacks are down and the level of security is right up.”