From AFP: A mortar attack on Tuesday marred the transition of responsibility from NATO to Afghan officials in Mehtar Lam, the second of seven areas due to be transferred this week.
Two mortar shells landed close to the town’s government office in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman where senior government ministers and Afghan and foreign commanders were attending the formal handover.
The transition process comes with Washington starting to lower troop numbers in Afghanistan as part of plans to recall 33,000 American troops by the end of next summer and put Afghans in charge of their country by the end of 2014.
Although NATO has said the transition process for each area could take up to two years to complete, there are fears about the capability of Afghan forces to take over with violence at record highs in a 10-year Taliban insurgency.
A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed the mortar attack on Tuesday but said they were not aimed at the ceremony and that there were no reports of casualties.
“There were two reported indirect fire mortars at approximately 11:30 this morning,” said the spokesman. “We do not have any reports of ISAF casualties or damage with that incident.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a telephone call to AFP, but the provincial police chief denied the attack had happened.
“We don’t have any reports of such an incident. It has not happened. No rockets have landed anywhere,” said police chief Ghulam Aziz Zarani.
An AFP reporter said shops were closed in the city, deserted except for Afghan police and army patrols.
Mehtar Lam is a beacon of relative security in a region plagued by insurgent activity. Regular Taliban-linked attacks continue in the outlying areas of Laghman province and in neighbouring eastern provinces that border Pakistan.