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Karzai lays out plan for Afghan troops to assert more control

Security hand over to begin in some areas as of July

Afghan National Army commandos trained near Kabul yesterday. Afghan forces will soon assume more control. Afghan National Army commandos trained near Kabul yesterday. Afghan forces will soon assume more control. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press)
By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post / March 23, 2011

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai announced details yesterday of the first stage of a plan to give Afghan forces more powers, saying his countrymen “don’t want foreigners to take responsibility for security anymore.’’

Under the plan, Afghan forces will assume the nominal lead for security of two relatively secure provinces and five cities in July.

The beginning of the hand over will coincide with the scheduled start of the US military pullout, which commanders have said will be slow and gradual.

The Afghan government and NATO officials hope the transition will be complete by the end of 2014, when the Obama administration hopes the United States will end its combat mission.

The transition is happening at a time of deepening concern about the toll the war is taking on civilians and amid uncertainty about the prospect of reaching a negotiated truce with the Taliban and other armed groups.

The first provinces the government intends to assume formal control over are Panjshir, which is north of Kabul, and Bamyan, northwest of the capital. Both have remained relatively safe in recent years, even as security has deteriorated sharply in other parts of the country.

Karzai said Afghan authorities will take primacy this summer for security in Lashkar Gah, the capital of volatile Helmand Province, in the south; Herat, the capital of a western namesake province; Balkh, the capital of northern Mazar-e-Sharif Province; and Mehterlam, the capital of Laghman Province in the east.

Karzai also included Kabul Province in the list of areas that will be transitioned, even though the province has long been under Afghan control.

The president used his speech, delivered at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in Kabul, to urge insurgents to lay down their arms.

“We know that not all of the people who have taken up arms against their country are terrorists,’’ Karzai said, adding that he understood the grievances that have emboldened the insurgency.

Among those causes, he listed airstrikes and night raids conducted by NATO troops — tactics the president has become increasingly critical of. He also addressed shortcomings by his government, including the country’s broken justice system.

“Whatever the reason,’’ he said, “we must end the bloodshed.’’

Transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces means international troops can eventually leave, which is a key demand of Taliban leaders Karzai is trying to lure to the negotiating table.

There have been informal contacts between insurgents and the Afghan government, but publicly the Taliban have not expressed interested in reaching a political resolution to the war.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid dismissed Karzai’s speech, saying the nation remains occupied by nearly 140,000 foreign forces. Only time will tell if the Afghan forces will succeed in securing the transition areas, he said.

“We will fight until the last foreign soldier is gone,’’ he said.

Karzai also said the international community should provide financial assistance for vital infrastructure projects even as he argued that the provincial reconstruction teams, meant to train government officials and assist their activities at the local level, should be phased out.

“As we move toward the transition process, all foreign parallel functions and institutions including private security firms, the PRTs, existence of the militias, detention of Afghan citizens by foreign forces, and arbitrary house searches must stop immediately,’’ he said. “Taking action on these demands would be a basic condition in shoring up a national sovereign state.’’

He said international assistance should be channeled through the Afghan government’s budget.

He also criticized the United Nations’ efforts as duplicative and sometimes ineffective.

While Karzai’s announcement showed his nation’s desire to end its reliance on foreign forces, it was not evidence that Afghan security forces have overcome a lack of training and equipment, illiteracy, corruption, and shortages of top Afghan officers and international mentors.

Still, the beginning of transition is a boost to troop-contributing nations that want to reassure war-weary citizens back home that their commitment to Afghanistan is not open-ended.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Karzai’s announcement, but warned that transition was not a signal for allies to withdraw from Afghanistan.

“I understand that as this transition gets underway, political leaders are facing pressure to bring their troops home for good,’’ he said. But NATO’s principal approach remains “in together, out together.’’

Except for Lahkar Gah, none of the areas on the transition list are in southern Afghanistan where the fiercest fighting has occurred.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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