Afghan forces soon to take charge in more areas

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan forces could soon start taking charge of security in a wide swath of northern and western Afghanistan, but only a few spots in the more violent south and east — the second step in a transition President Hamid Karzai hopes will leave his forces in control of the entire nation by the end of 2014.

A successful handover is key to NATO’s plan to withdraw most of its combat forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting there. Western officials and experts have expressed pessimism about the ability of Karzai and his armed forces to assume command of their country. If they fail, the militant Taliban could stage a comeback.

All or parts of 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are on a list of transition sites Karzai will officially announce Nov. 2 at a conference in Istanbul, Abdul Khalik Farahi, director of the Afghan department on local governance, said Wednesday at a meeting with representatives from the areas.

Most are in the north and west, but the list also includes places that have experienced recent attacks, as well as parts of the country near Taliban-controlled areas.

Afghan and western officials said that after the second phase of transition begins in December or January, 40 to 50 percent of the Afghan population will be living in areas where Afghan security forces are taking the lead from U.S.-led coalition forces.

Though excited, many governors in the newly listed provinces complained that transition can’t succeed unless they receive more police, soldiers and equipment.

Others predicted transition would go smoothly in their regions. Still others worried insurgents would move in and overwhelm still nascent Afghan security forces.

Officials in Badghis province in western Afghanistan said they didn’t think any parts of their province were ready.

“It’s too early,” deputy governor Ghani Sabori said, noting that roadside bomb blasts and attacks are still routine in five of Badghis’ seven districts.

Appearing on the second list surprised Badghis officials, who quickly met on Tuesday to discuss the issue, he said.

“Everybody was thinking Badghis would be better in the third phase,” he said.

Wardak Governor Halim Fadai said he was happy to see transition begin in his province, where he said military operations have improved security in the past four months.

“Many key leaders of the Taliban were killed. Some have left the area,” Fadai said. “We recently developed a plan so the military operations are immediately followed by the delivery of government services. The government and international community have not always followed through before.”

Nasrullah Sadeqizada Nili, a lawmaker from Day Kundi province, said there were just 400 policemen and no Afghan soldiers in his province.

If the small coalition force leaves, the southern district of Gizab, which was controlled by the Taliban from 1984 to 1989, could be overrun by insurgents again, he said.

“The provincial capital, Nili, is only a few kilometers from there. They could quickly try to capture the capital,” he said. “I am deeply worried about this transition.”

Several governors made the plea for extra manpower and equipment.

“After the transfer, we need to have more modern weapons immediately,” said Ghazi Governor Musa Khan Akbarzada.

Abdul Karim Barawi, the governor of Nimroz province in the southwest, said many more Afghan Border Police were needed to protect the province’s 140 mile-border with Iran and 110 mile-border with Pakistan.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said as soon as the second transition phase begins, the government would start moving more troops and equipment to areas that need them.

NATO officials have acknowledged the flow of equipment has been slow in some areas, and it will take several years to deliver all that is intended for Afghanistan.

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