KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government announced Tuesday that U.S.-led international forces will hand over security responsibility in three provinces to Afghan forces beginning this summer.
"From this July, Afghanistan will take the responsibility over seven locations including three provinces and four cities," President Hamid Karzai said at a graduation ceremony for new army and police officers in Kabul.
According to the plan, Afghan forces will take charge of security in Kabul, Bamyan, and Panjsher this summer.
Both Bamyan, a province in central Afghanistan whose population is majority Hazara Shiites, and Panjsher in the north, the birthplace of anti-Taliban Tajik resistance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, are counted as secure provinces in the insurgency mounted by the Taliban, who are Sunni Pashtuns, mostly from the south of Afghanistan.
Also to be handed over to Afghan forces is Lashkar Gah, the capital of the restive province of Helmand in the south, Herat city in the west and Mehterlam, the provincial capital of Laghman in the east.
"Security will be extended from the centers to the districts" Karzai said.
This will be the first phase of the security transition from NATO to Afghan forces agreed to in November's Lisbon summit.
Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks against Afghan and NATO forces in recent months. Earlier in March, a Taliban suicide attacker killed more than 30 people at an army recruiting center in northern province of Afghanistan.
Last year was the deadliest year for international forces in Afghanistan, with more than 700 soldiers killed. More than 90 foreign troops have been killed since the beginning of this year.
Karzai again emphasized the urgent need to halt the setting up of parallel institutions such as the military-protected provincial reconstructions teams, which support development projects in the provinces, and private security firms. He called them an "obstacle" to state building.
Karzai also urged armed militants fighting in Afghanistan to lay down their arms and join the peace process.
"Here once again I ask the opposition to stop killing civilians, and put end to suicide attacks and explosions," he said. "Otherwise, it will continue the presence of foreign forces, the crisis and war in Afghanistan" Karzai said.
(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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