Tom A. Peter, Christian Science Monitor: After a decade of war in Afghanistan, international forces began handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces in seven areas across the country this week, marking the first major step toward ending NATO-led combat missions here by 2014.
Although most of the seven areas that Afghan forces will assume responsibility for have been some of the most peaceful regions in the country, Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, and Mihtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province, are likely to be a litmus test for the path forward.
Whether Afghan forces are capable of maintaining security gains in Lashkar Gah and protecting Mihtarlam from growing instability will provide policymakers with critical information to determine the pace of the drawdown.
The other areas left to transition in this first round include Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Panjshir, and all of Kabul Province, except the Sarobi district. Mihtarlam became the second area to transfer on Tuesday, after Bamiyan on Sunday. The first round of transitions is slated to be completed by the end of next week.
“There will be plenty of challenges ahead, security and otherwise, as Mihtarlam progresses through transition over the coming months; and plenty of challenges as Afghanistan as a whole, this great country, moves gradually and inexorably toward full transfer of security responsibility by the end of 2014,” said British Gen. James Bucknall, deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force, at the transfer ceremony in Mihtarlam.
Photo: Musadeq Sadeq/AP