Panetta, Allen Praise Security Transition Progress in Afghanistan
 
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US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the Afghan government's announcement of a new step in putting Afghan forces in charge of the nation's security is evidence that the country is on the path to self-governance.

"It is another sign of steady progress that the Government of Afghanistan has announced the fourth tranche of the transition process," Panetta said in a statement on Monday.

The security transition is designed to take place in five stages. The transition is in line with the plan set forth at the Lisbon summit, Isaf said.

"I congratulate President Karzai, his national security team, and the Afghan National Security Forces for their commitment to taking even more of a lead role for the security of the Afghan people," Panetta said.

The head of the Afghan Transition Commission, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, said the fourth phase of transition starts in two months.

Afghan Security Forces will take responsibility of 12 provinces and 52 districts that contain 11% of the country's population.

Twenty-three of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are currently fully in the transition process. The 12 provinces added in the fourth phase are mostly in the north and interior of the country. One district in Helmand is also included.

"President Karzai's announcement of the fourth group of provinces to enter transition is another historic step for Afghanistan as it gets closer to taking full responsibility for security of the entire country," said Isaf commander Gen. John R. Allen.

"With the addition of these 12 full provinces to the transition process, Afghan National Security Forces are now taking the security lead in areas where 87 percent of the Afghan people live," Allen added.

The Britain Embassy, Isaf and Nato also welcomed the announcement.

The Afghan defense ministry has said that although some major challenges remain, the Afghan forces are eager to take security responsibility.

"We have problems in the area of air force. The planes handed over to us were defective. This is why we have problems in our air force," Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said.

The foreign troops will leave by the end of 2014, after the local troops take over full security responsibility.

There are around 66,000 US troops and 37,000 troops of other nations fighting insurgents in Afghanistan.

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