Australia hails progress in Afghan transition

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday news that local Afghan forces would take over control of security in a large new slice of the country was a real sign of progress.

In the third phase of a five-tranche military transition process to bring NATO closer to getting out of the Afghan war, 122 more districts throughout Afghanistan will come under local command.

They include Uruzgan province, where most of Australia's 1,550 troops are based.

Kabul said the handover's third phase would start immediately and could take as little as six months, although according to NATO's International Security Assistance Force complete transition in an area can take 12-18 months.

Gillard said it reflected the progress made by Afghan and Australian troops "in improving security and in the training and mentoring of the Afghan national security forces".

"As transition gets underway in Uruzgan, Australia's mentoring task force and special operations forces will support Afghan national security forces as they progressively take the lead for security," she said.

"Australia is firmly committed to Afghanistan and to the agreed transition strategy and its implementation."

She added that Canberra would continue to support Afghanistan after transition, "including through a training and advisory role and through a possible special forces contribution".

NATO has a total of 130,000 soldiers helping the government of President Hamid Karzai fight an insurgency by hardline Taliban militants, and they are due to withdraw by the end of 2014 when the transition process is complete.

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