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First stage of Afghan security handover begins

By David Ariosto, CNN
Two Afghan soldiers stand outside their barracks last week during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Two Afghan soldiers stand outside their barracks last week during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
  • Bamiyan province is the first province to transfer security responsibilities
  • There are some 150,000 coalition service members in Afghanistan
  • A full NATO drawdown is expected by the end of 2014

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The first stage of the NATO handover to Afghan security forces began Sunday, marked with a ceremony at a police station in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province -- a small relatively stable area situated in the country's mountainous central region.

Bamiyan -- where New Zealand troops are serving -- is the first of seven areas to transfer security responsibilities, said Seddiq Seddiqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

"There is no particular security problem here in Bamyan," said provincial spokesman Abdul Rahman Ahmadi. "The only challenge that we worry about will be the interferences of the insurgents from Bayman's surrounding provinces."

The other six provinces to be transferred include parts of Herat, Balkh, Panjshir, Kabul, Laghman and Helmand.

A handover in Lashkar Gah -- Helmand's provincial capital -- is set for Wednesday. Helmand province is home to the small farming community of Marjah, where thousands of NATO and Afghan troops launched a massive offensive that drove Taliban forces from the area, despite fierce resistance and heavy losses.

McCain: Afghan drawdown unnecessary risk

Sunday's ceremony in Bamiyan came a day after a series of Afghan-led raids targeting Taliban leaders in the country's southern and eastern regions.

The ensuing firefights left more than 10 insurgents dead in Nangarhar province, while government forces captured weapons and supplies in Khost and Logar provinces, NATO reported.

"Militants were hidden in a school" and opened fire on government forces, said Nangarhar provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai.

The spokesman said Afghan forces returned fire on the empty school, as NATO airstrikes pummeled the building.

CNN can not independently verify Abdulzai's account.

Currently, there are 150,000 ISAF forces in Afghanistan, including nearly 100,000 from the United States -- the largest NATO presence in the region since the U.S.-led war began in 2001.

News of the transfers have raised questions about the country's future. While some welcome the transition, critics question whether the country's security forces can repel a resurgent militancy without the same levels of foreign intervention.

Last week, the first batch of U.S. soldiers left Afghanistan, beginning a drawdown of 10,000 American troops scheduled to leave by year's end.

The full NATO drawdown is expected to take place by the end of 2014.

Sunday's transfer ceremony came as Gen. David Petraeus -- the outgoing top commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan -- prepared to formally transfer authority on Monday to incoming commander Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen. Petraeus plans to retire from the military before taking over operations as the head of the CIA.

CNN's Reshad Fazel and Matiullah Mati contributed to this report