- Associated Press - Sunday, July 17, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan — International military forces handed over control of a peaceful province in the center of the country to Afghan police on Sunday, taking another step in a transition that will allow foreign troops to withdraw in full by the end of 2014.

Bamiyan province is one of seven areas going to Afghan security control this month in a first round of the transition.

Another, Panjshir province in the east, began the transfer earlier this month. Both places have seen little to no fighting since the overthrow of the Taliban nearly 10 years ago and barely had any coalition troop presence.

Violence has increased in other parts of Afghanistan, however, since the Taliban began a yearly offensive in April. Afghan and NATO troops killed at least 13 Taliban fighters in the east Sunday, and three NATO service members were killed in roadside bomb attacks.

The transition to Afghan control will allow international military forces to start withdrawing slowly from Afghanistan until all combat troops are gone in just more than three years.

Bamiyan only had a small foreign troop contingent from New Zealand. Bamiyan and Panjshir are the only two provinces that will be handed over in their entirety during this month’s transition phase.

Other areas to be handed over are the provincial capitals of Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, Herat in the west, Mazer-e-Sharif in the north and Mehterlam in the east. Afghan forces also will take control of all of Kabul province, except for the restive Surobi district.

Not all residents of Bamiyan were happy with the handover decision, which they said had resulted in increased violence in the province by insurgents seeking to make the Afghan government look bad.

“People are very concerned about security in Bamiyan right now,” said Bamiyan lawmaker Abdul Rahman Shaheedani. “When several months ago they announced the areas where the first phase of transition would occur, and named Bamiyan, militant activities increased.”

In Sunday’s fighting, Afghan and NATO troops fought an overnight gunbattle with Taliban insurgents and called in an airstrike on the building where the fighters were holed up. At least 13 Taliban were killed.

Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a spokesman for the coalition, said the overnight operation targeted a Taliban leader in the Kuz Kunar district of Nangarhar province. The force of Afghan and coalition troops came under fire and insurgents refused requests to come out of the building. The fighting ended with an airstrike, and there were no casualties among civilians or security forces.

A spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial governor said the bodies of 13 insurgents had been found.

Also Sunday, NATO said one service member was killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan and two others by a similar device in the south. The deaths bring the total number of coalition forces killed this month to 34.

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