The process of handing control from foreign to Afghan security forces has begun as NATO troop reductions start to get underway.
An Afghan interior ministry spokesman said a handover ceremony was held on Sunday at the police headquarters in the central province of Bamiyan, the first of seven areas to see a transition of responsibility this month.
Under the transition process, Afghan forces and officials will take more responsibility for security and their own affairs, allowing a gradual withdrawal of foreign troops.
All foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Western countries have begun to announce partial reductions starting this summer, with all 33,000 US "surge" troops leaving by the end of 2012.
There are around 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, nearly 100,000 of whom are from the US, battling a nearly ten-year Taliban-led insurgency.
Western officials say the whole process in the seven areas, which include the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, and Lashkar Gah in the volatile southern province of Helmand, could take up to two years to implement.
The transition is taking place amid widespread doubt about the ability of Afghan forces to enforce security. Many members of the army and police force are illiterate and numbers are down.
The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Steffan de Mistura, takes a more optimistic view, however. De Misura said earlier this month that security was improving and the time was ripe for the security transition.
Yet Afghanistan saw civilian deaths reach a record high in the first six months of this year, with the UN saying at least 1,462 civilians had died in conflict-related incidents - a 15-percent increase compared with the same period last year.
And security sources say there are serious fears of attacks in some of the seven areas chosen for the first phase of transition.
So it seems likely that Afghan security forces will be left with some big challenges when foreign forces leave the country. It remains to be seen whether they can rise to meet them.
Author: Timothy Jones (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Andreas Illmer