Nato begins handover of responsibilties to Afghan forces
Afghanistan has begun handing over responsibility for security from Nato soldiers to its own troops in a process designed to leave the country free of international combat forces by 2014. Seven parts of the country will be transferred over the week in a move that could take up to two years to complete.
"A ceremony was held in Bamyan police headquarters today to mark the official transition of responsibilities from foreign forces to Afghan forces," said interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi.
The ceremony was attended by the head of the national transition committee, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, along with national ministers of interior, defence and public works. The deputy head of Afghanistan's intelligence agency also attended and the New Zealand ambassador to Kabul, representing his troops who have been based in the area.
The central mountainous province of Bamyan is a devoutly anti-Taliban area populated by the ethnic Hazara minority and home to two sixth century Buddhist statues that were blown up by the Islamists during their brutal reign.
There are around 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, nearly 100,000 of whom are from the United States, fighting the nearly 10-year war. Some 33,000 US "surge" troops are due to leave by the end of 2012.
Western officials say the whole process in seven areas, including the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Lashkar Gah, would be closely monitored.
Earlier this month, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Steffan de Mistura, said that security was improving in the war-torn country, making it a good time to begin the transfers, which will start everywhere by mid-2013.
But there have been several major attacks so far this summer, with the president's half-brother assassinated in his Kandahar home on Tuesday, and a recent Taliban attack at a top Kabul hotel that left 21 people dead.