UK eyes areas for second stage of Afghan transition


At least one former Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province has seen a big enough improvement in security to make it a likely candidate for a second wave of handovers to Afghan control by early next year, British forces say.
Violence remains high in parts of Helmand province, but districts such as Nad Ali offer NATO forces hope they can push forward with a slow-but-steady plan for gradually transferring security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
NATO will pass security control in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah to Afghan forces within the next week, part of the first wave of transfers.
The whole country will follow by the end of 2014, paving the way for the exit of most foreign troops.
But while there has been huge focus on the seven areas that will kick-start the process, there has been little public discussion of where next, or how fast transition will proceed.
British army officers, in charge of security in the central area of Helmand, say Nad Ali, a fertile agricultural area that lies just to the northwest of Lashkar Gah, could make the list for the second stage, possibly early in 2012.
“Lashkar Gah is transitioning now . Nad Ali will be next,” said Captain Freddie Inglefield, who is in charge of mentoring Afghan police in the district, adding that he believed it would be “in a state to transition” by next March.
“An informal transition is already happening,” he added.
Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser Rea, commanding officer of the second battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, said violence was down across central Helmand.
And in places like Nad Ali, the annual “fighting season”, when insurgents have traditionally returned from winter hideouts, taking advantage of cover from new growth in orchards and vineyards to go on the offensive, sputtered out.