- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan — Lawmakers from Kandahar said Tuesday that Afghan forces are far from ready to assume full security responsibility in the province that was the birthplace of the Taliban, stressing it should be among the last regions where NATO forces hand over control to Afghan counterparts.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed two NATO service members Tuesday in east Afghanistan, the coalition said, providing no further details.

The deaths - three days after a suicide truck bombing in Kabul killed five service members and eight civilian contractors - raised to 491 the number of NATO troops killed so far this year in Afghanistan.

Flanked by fellow Kandahar parliamentarians, lawmaker Khalid Pashtun pointed to a deadly Taliban attack Monday in the provincial capital as a clear example of why they need NATO forces long after Afghan troops assume sole responsibility in other parts of Afghanistan.

In that attack, five people, including three working for the U.N.’s refugee agency, were killed.

The Kandahar legislators fear their province will be on the second list that President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce in the coming weeks as regions where security is to be handed over to Afghan forces.

The concerns come as NATO, which plans to withdraw its combat forces by 2014, recently shifted its thinking on the transition process, with an eye on handing over not only relatively peaceful areas but also some violent regions, where coalition forces are still in a position to provide backup.

“We have too many security problems in Kandahar,” Mr. Pashtun said, adding that since the start of the U.S.-led invasion, the province has been the epicenter of Afghanistan’s security woes.

“We believe that transition of security should happen. But considering the … situation in Kandahar and some other provinces in the south,” it should not be on the second or even third transition list, he said.

Instead of a six-stage transition process, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the coalition’s top commander in the country, has said the plan now is to achieve the transition in five steps, with the last starting as early as the fall of 2013 instead of later that year or early 2014.

Initially, the idea was to have Afghan security forces take charge in the most peaceful areas first.

But Gen. Allen said in a recent interview with the Associated Press that Afghan, coalition officials and others recently decided it would be unwise to transfer the most volatile provinces in 2014, when the international force’s footprint will be shrinking.

Although Kandahar was not on a recently publicized draft list for next transition sites, which includes all or part of 17 of the country’s 34 provinces, Mr. Pashtun said there has been talk it would be included on the third list.

It should be at “the end of the transition,” he said.

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