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General Says US May Be Needed in Afghan South for Years

The commander of the U.S. Marine Corps says it likely will take a few years to transfer security duty to Afghan forces in the country's key southern provinces.

General James Conway says some American forces in Afghanistan probably will turn over combat duties to Afghan forces in 2011. However, he adds, that probably will not include Marines battling insurgents in Helmand and Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.

Conway said President Barack Obama's declaration that he will begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by July 2011 has bolstered Taliban morale. But the general noted that the Taliban will be in for a surprise next summer when they realize U.S. forces are remaining in large numbers.

The last of 30,000 additional U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama will arrive at the end of next month. That will bring the total number of U.S. forces in the country to 98,000.

NATO said Tuesday that separate attacks in southern Afghanistan killed two of its troops.

NATO also said Tuesday that Afghan and international forces have killed more than 35 Taliban fighters this week as part of efforts to provide security for parliamentary elections next month.

The alliance says the operation is focused on clearing Kabul province and rooting out insurgents. NATO says it has recovered bomb-making materials, suicide vests and rocket-propelled grenades.

Security remains a top concern ahead of Afghanistan's September 18 parliamentary vote. Last week, Afghan officials said 900 polling centers, mainly in the south and east, would not open because they are in areas considered too dangerous.

NATO also says it is investigating allegations that eight Afghan civilians were killed and 12 others wounded during a NATO raid Sunday in the northern province of Baghlan.

In the east, NATO says insurgent small arms fire killed an Afghan boy and wounded another boy Monday during a militant attack on Afghan and international troops in Logar province.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.