U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says U.S. forces in Afghanistan may start handing over security responsibilities to Afghan authorities before the July 2011 target date.
Gates said Wednesday that any decision on speeding up the handover will have to be based on conditions on the ground. He was speaking during a tour of an Afghan army training center outside Kabul where U.S. and British instructors work with Afghan troops.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak accompanied Gates on the tour.
Wardak said he hopes Afghanistan will be able take responsibility for its own security by October 2011. He also said Afghans feel "almost ashamed" that international forces continue to shed blood fighting the Taliban and want to relieve them of the burden.
Meanwhile, Afghan and international forces captured several insurgents and found weapons and ammunition in a joint operation Wednesday while searching a compound in the Garmsir district of Helmand Province.
In another development, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the efforts of international forces will not be enough to secure Afghanistan. He says only a political solution will end the war.
Miliband made the comment in published excerpts of a speech he is due to give Wednesday to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. city of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In the excerpts, Miliband says a political settlement must include Afghan insurgents permanently severing ties with al-Qaida, giving up armed struggle and living within the Afghan constitutional framework. He says resolving the conflict will also require involvement of all of Afghanistan's neighbors.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai plans to convene a three-day peace conference in Kabul on April 29 to discuss reintegrating Taliban militants into civilian life.