Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NATO forces may hand over violent provinces to Afghan control

NATO forces may soon transfer two of the most volatile areas in the country over to Afghan security forces as part of the second phase of a nationwide security handover as part of the drawdown of American forces, NATO and Afghan officials said.

The Arghandab Valley in Kandahar and the district of Nad e Ali in Helmand -- areas where violent clashes with the insurgency that have left many American and British soldiers dead in recent years -- are among the regions being discussed as part of the "tranche 2" handover that President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce in the coming weeks.

While these areas have seen a recent reduction in violence, their history as hotbeds of insurgent violence has raised concerns the districts may be more vulnerable to Taliban resurgence after a substantial NATO drawdown of troops.

Handing over these more volatile areas now, analysts say, could help ensure that the Afghan army and police can be reinforced with NATO forces if local forces encounter renewed insurgent attacks.

"It is good when we have a significant NATO presence in Afghanistan to start with the toughest parts in Afghanistan and that will provide the opportunity for the Afghan security forces to defend themselves and in the meantime have the support of NATO," said Haroun Mir, a political analyst in Kabul.

An Afghan official close to the presidency said that while the original list of 17 regions to be handed over did not contain these names, it was possible the president may decide to add them as part of a "political decision". The final decision on which areas to transition rests with the Afghan Presidential Palace, NATO officials say. Karzai is expected to make an announcement on the next regions to be handed over to Afghan control.

But to others, the plan is a high-risk strategy which could put Afghan forces into a tough fight for which they are not ready.

One local leader in Arghandab, its district chief, Haji Shah Mohammad, told CNN that while security in his area had improved significantly, it was due to the heavy presence of NATO forces in the area.

"I do not agree with the idea of transitioning Arghandab because our Afghan forces are not up to the point where they are able to handle security without international forces' support," Shah Mohammad told CNN, adding he had also heard his district could be transitioned to local control.

Shah Mohammad said he was concerned the Taliban in his region were waiting for an opportunity to strike again. "I think it is too early for Arghandab to be transitioned," he said, adding that Afghan security forces were inadequately equipped to handle the task.

An official in the governor's office in Helmand, the province where the Nad-e-Ali district is located, confirmed that it was one of two regions they had proposed to be handed over to Afghan security forces in the coming months. A spokesman for the Helmand governor, Daoud Ahmedi, said: "We proposed Nad-e-Ali because already Afghans are responsible for much of security."

Yet Ahmedi added that about a tenth of its area should still receive international help, even after the transition, as it remained volatile, he said.

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