KABUL (Reuters) - Seventeen areas in Afghanistan have been slated for the next phase of the security handover from foreign troops to Afghan forces, which President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce next week, a senior Afghan official said on Wednesday.
Under a plan agreed by NATO-led forces and Karzai, all foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with the rapidly-expanding Afghan police and army assuming full security responsibility in their place.
The shortlist covers 17 areas, seven of which are provinces — mostly in the relatively peaceful north — that could be handed over in their entirety, while districts within the others will pass into Afghan police and army control.
Parts of some provinces on the list, like southern Helmand, have already been handed over to Afghan control.
Takhar, Sar-e-Pul, Samangan, Parwan, and Balkh provinces in the north, Daikondi in central Afghanistan, and Nimroz in the west could be fully handed over, according to a list seen by Reuters.
“It is expected that President Karzai will announce the potential areas and provinces during a regional conference in Istanbul on November 2,” said Abdul Khaliq Farahi, head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance.
The implementation of the plan could start as soon as December, a NATO official said earlier this month.
The list also includes parts of Wardak and Ghazni provinces, which lie west and southwest of the capital Kabul and have a heavy insurgent presence, along with a district in southern Helmand province, one of the Taliban’s strongholds.
In the first phase of the transition which began in this summer, Afghan troops were put in charge of a handful of areas, some of which were then attacked by Taliban insurgents fighting Karzai’s government and its Western backers.
Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, which was handed over to Afghan troops in the first stage of the transition, has sustained several attacks in the last several months.
However, it also came under attack when foreign forces were in charge of security there, and transition is broadly considered to be on track.
Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Western forces in Afghanistan, the United Nations and other groups say violence is at its worst since U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban from power in late 2001, according to the United Nations.
NATO-led forces say they have seen a decline over recent months in attacks launched by insurgents against their troops.
Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Yoko Nishikawa