- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s president said Tuesday that international military bases that run provincial infrastructure and development programs will have to close as his government takes over responsibility for the country’s security — a process starting this year.

Hours later, a bomb exploded in a crowded intersection in downtown Kabul, but there were no reports of anyone killed. Separate blasts in the south killed two NATO service members.

President Hamid Karzai repeatedly has criticized provincial reconstruction teams for undermining the Afghan government by offering alternative sources of funding and public works. He has called for the closure of the bases previously, but Tuesday’s statement appeared to set forth a timetable for their dissolution.

The Afghan government has pledged to take over security gradually, on a province-by-province basis, starting this year with the goal of overseeing the entire country by 2014. Mr. Karzai said he plans to announce in March the first provinces that will shift to Afghan oversight.

Mr. Karzai said that he is not calling for the immediate closure of the reconstruction bases, known as PRTs, but that they should close as part of the transitions in order to eliminate “parallel” government structures.

“The transition means giving the whole thing to Afghan ownership and leadership. Naturally, then, the PRTs will have no place,” Mr. Karzai told reporters in the capital.

“It’s not a competition between us and the international community. They’re not here to compete with us, we hope,” he added.

Afghanistan’s international allies have said they will continue development programs well past these transitions. It was not clear if provincial reconstruction teams were included in this plan.

Maj. Sunset Belinsky, a NATO spokeswoman, said she could not immediately comment on Mr. Karzai’s statement.

There are currently 27 provincial reconstruction teams operating in Afghanistan, spread across 34 provinces, according to NATO.

The bomb in Kabul went off midafternoon in the capital’s bustling center. Police on the scene said the explosives caused only light injuries.

A member of the investigative team said that the bomb was stuck onto the tire of a traffic police car parked in the intersection as officers were out directing traffic. Fataullah, who only gave one name, said the driver of the vehicle was inside the car when the bomb went off, but he was not injured.

The blast blew out the windows of a nearby hotel and at least three nearby cars. Police already had cleared away the vehicle that was targeted by the time reporters arrived. Police quickly swarmed around the area, blowing whistles as they tried to keep traffic moving.

Elsewhere, NATO said international and Afghan forces detained two suspected Taliban leaders in southern Kandahar province as a pair of homemade bombs killed a coalition service member and injured two civilians.

The multinational force said one of the Taliban leaders arrested in the raid in Kandahar’s Panjwai district coordinated attacks on Afghan and coalition forces in the nearby Zhari district. The other is believed to have served as a district Taliban chief for the past three months, NATO said.

NATO separately said two of its service members were killed when homemade bombs exploded in the country’s south. It didn’t say where exactly the separate blasts occurred. The service members’ nationalities were not released.

Eight service members with the international coalition have been killed so far this month, and 39 since the start of the year.

Last year was the deadliest of the nearly decade-long war for international troops, with more than 700 killed, compared with just more than 500 in 2009, which was previously the worst year of the war.

Another bomb in the eastern province of Nangarhar wounded two civilians when exploded around 9:50 a.m., the Interior Ministry said. The ministry condemned the blast as “un-Islamic and inhuman” and said it was investigating.

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