Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his nation's forces will soon take charge of security in more than half of Afghanistan, marking the second step of a transition that will see NATO combat forces leave by 2014.
In a statement issued Sunday, President Karzai said that six provinces, seven cities and dozens of districts, mostly in the country's north and west, will soon pass from foreign to local control. A specific date for the transition was not mentioned.
Among the districts listed in the second round are Nawa, Nad Ali and Marjah in Helmand province, once seen as hotbeds of insurgency but which NATO-led forces say are no longer as volatile. The provinces of Nimroz, Balkh and Takhar also are on the list.
The first stage of the transition began in July, with seven areas handed over, including all of Kabul province.
NATO will hand security over to Afghanistan's army and police in a gradual process due to be completed by the end of 2014, clearing the way for most foreign troops to return home. President Karzai has long pushed for the handover.
The latest announcement comes as NATO confirmed two of its soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan, one by a roadside bomb Sunday, and another in combat operations on Saturday.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that 33,000 of 100,000 American troops will leave Afghanistan over the next 14 months. Germany has also said it will soon start to reduce its contingent of 5,000 armed forces by the end of this year. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy says his country's 4,000 troops will be withdrawn in roughly the same proportion and schedule as that of the United States.
Britain has said it will withdraw 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end 2012, reducing the size of its force to 9,000.
In a statement issued later Sunday, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, welcomed the release of the Afghan government’s list of areas intended for the second stage of security transition. Allen said "“Transition is a reality, and it is a path for the future success of this country and the Afghan people."
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.