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Afghans Can Handle Security by 2014, Say US Officials

A U.S. soldier returns fire as others run for cover during a firefight with insurgents in the Badula Qulp area, West of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan (FILE).

U.S. officials say Afghanistan should be ready to handle its own security by 2014.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, say NATO should endorse the Afghan government's target date for the transfer of security responsibility during the alliance's annual summit in Portugal later this month.

Earlier this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for full security transfer in 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he will begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.

Gates and Mullen spoke to reporters in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday, with both officials acknowledging a tough fight ahead as coalition forces battle the Taliban insurgency.

The British Times newspaper reported Monday that the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General David Petraeus, has drafted a timetable for handing over control of Afghan provinces to local security forces.

The Times says Petraeus will present his color-coded map to NATO leaders in Lisbon on November 19, with a handful of areas slated for a handover within six months.

NATO troops are expected to remain in Afghan provinces in the south and east for at least two more years.

Meanwhile, the head of British forces in Afghanistan, General David Richards, told The Sun newspaper that Britain will stay in Afghanistan "as long as it takes," with 1,000 trainers likely to remain in the country after 2015.

Richards said British troops are in a "demanding" part of Afghanistan and were going to be shouldering the burden at least through next year.

In violence Monday, NATO says a roadside bomb killed one of its service members in eastern Afghanistan. This year has been the deadliest for international forces, with more than 621 troops killed.

In the south, Afghan officials said Monday that Afghan and NATO forces killed 15 Taliban insurgents in Kandahar province the day before.

Elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials say a civilian was killed in an explosion in Helmand province on Monday.

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