The United States on Tuesday welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's announcement of the first three provinces and four cities to begin the process of transition to Afghan-led security in the coming months.
"We look forward to troop reductions starting in July and continuing based on conditions on the ground, with the transition to be completed by the end of 2014," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
"As we have long said, the Afghans themselves must take responsibility for their own future -- for providing security, for strengthening governance, and for reaching a political solution to the conflict," the top U.S. diplomat added.
|An Afghan Army soldier stands guard at a security checkpoint outside the city of Herat, Afghanistan, March 22. 2011.|
Karzai announced on Tuesday that Afghan national security forces will "notably take full security responsibility of provinces of Kabul except Sarobi district, Bamyan and Panjshir as well as cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Lashkar Gah, Herat and Mehterlam, " calling the handover of security from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Afghan forces a very important and critical process.
"This step advances the vision for transition that ISAF members and the Afghan government agreed to at the Lisbon summit in November and that (U.S.) President (Barack) Obama reaffirmed in his December policy review," Clinton said.
"Together with our allies and partners, the United States will realign our civilian and military resources in these provinces to support the Afghan government's increasing responsibility for security and the delivery of other essential services to its citizens," she said, adding that transition is an "essential pillar" of the U.S., NATO and international community's long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
NATO and the Afghan government signed an Enduring Partnership Declaration at the Lisbon summit, and the United States is negotiating a bilateral Strategic Partnership Declaration with Afghanistan.
Clinton said the United States continues to support the Afghan people as they work to build a more stable and peaceful nation, and remains committed to the goal of a region that is "free from al-Qaida and no longer a safe haven for international terrorism."