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Afghan troops now in charge in Bamiyan

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan, July 17 (UPI) -- NATO has handed control of the central Afghan province of Bamiyan to Afghan security forces, officials said.

It is the first of seven regions to be passed from NATO to local troops under a plan announced by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in March, the BBC reported Sunday.

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Government officials see the handover as a major -- and critical -- step in the transition of power to local troops before foreign soldiers end combat operations in 2014, the BBC said.

Bamiyan is considered one of Afghanistan's most secure regions, but it is a poor region dependent on foreign aid.

The other regions to be passed to local control are: The provinces of Kabul and Panjshir, the cities of Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, the town of Mehtar Lam and Lashkar Gah, the capital of volatile Helmand province in the south where Taliban insurgents remain active.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition of power would be "determined by conditions on the ground."

International troops from New Zealand will remain in the Bamiyan region for the time being, but it will be under Afghan control.

The event to pass control of the region to Afghan troops was attended by senior Afghan ministers and foreign ambassadors, who traveled from the capital of Kabul to take part in the ceremony.

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The event wasn't announced in advance or broadcast live because of security concerns, the report said.

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