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Afghan handover timetable being set

Foreign ministers from around the world, including US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Britain's William Hague, are meeting in Kabul to agree a timetable for the handover of security responsibilities in Afghanistan to homegrown forces.

On Monday night, Mr Hague met Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who paid tribute to the efforts and sacrifice of British troops in his country.

The Foreign Secretary assured Mr Karzai that Britain remained "a steady friend" of Afghanistan.

Prime Minister David Cameron has already indicated that he wants the bulk of Britain's 10,000-strong detachment in Afghanistan to come home by 2015.

The Kabul Conference is expected to pave the way for the withdrawal of UK and other Nato combat troops by sketching out a gradual transition to local responsibility by 2014.

Mr Karzai will attempt to show the progress he is making towards establishing control over the war-ravaged country by asking donors to increase from 50% to 80% the proportion of aid money devoted to programmes drawn up by Afghans, rather than chosen by foreign capitals.

He is expected to unveil 23 "national priority programmes" in the areas of governance, social and economic development and peace and security where he wants aid money to be directed.

The president acknowledged that it was "vital" to continue work to improve governance in what has been ranked by Transparency International as the world's second most corrupt country.

The conference comes in one of the bloodiest periods for international forces since the toppling of the Taliban administration in 2001, with 13 British deaths this month alone.

The international community will use it to assess the progress made by Mr Karzai against targets set in London in January to tackle corruption, improve governance and deliver a combined civilian, political and military solution to instability in Afghanistan.

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