MEHTERLAM, Afghanistan — NATO handed over responsibility for the security of the capital of an eastern province to Afghan forces Tuesday, the latest step in a transition that will lead to the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
U.S. forces turned over control of Mehterlam, the capital of Laghman province, but will retain responsibility for the other areas in the predominantly Pashtun province that remain under Taliban and other insurgent groups' influence.
NATO officials said the handover sent a powerful signal that progress is being made.
"Above all, it is a tangible demonstration to the Afghan people of the growing capacity of this government and its increasing ability to improve citizen's lives," said Lt. Gen. James Bucknall, deputy commander of coalition forces.
Mehterlam is one of seven areas being transferred to the Afghan government this month, the first phase in a 31/2 year plan to see the entire country under Afghan control.
On Sunday, the peaceful province of Bamiyan was handed over, while the transition process has begun in northern Panjshir. The two, which have seen little violence, are the only provinces to be handed over.
Violence has increased around the country since President Hamid Karzai announced on March 22 that government forces would take control of the seven areas.