Afghan forces take over regions
The president of Afghanistan says that his nation's security forces will take over from the US-led coalition in seven parts of the country, a first step toward his goal of having Afghan police and soldiers in charge by the end of 2014.
The tenuous step comes despite Nato predictions of bloody fighting this spring and Afghans' fears that their forces are not up to the task.
In a speech peppered with criticism of the international military and civilian effort, President Hamid Karzai asserted himself as a national leader and said the Afghan forces were on a path toward self-sufficiency.
"The Afghan nation doesn't want the defence of this country to be in the hands of others any more," President Karzai told hundreds of dignitaries and Afghan police and soldiers at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in the capital.
He also reiterated his call for Afghan insurgents to lay down their weapons and reconcile with his government. Transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces means international troops can eventually leave, which is a key demand of Taliban leaders the president 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 the 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 in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
"We will fight until the last foreign soldier is gone," he said.