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      NATO Hands Anti-Taliban Province to Afghans

      NATO has handed the fiercely anti-Taliban province of Panjshir over to Afghan control despite broad criticism the move is political.
      By Gabe Kahn.
      First Publish: 7/27/2011, 9:53 PM / Last Update: 7/26/2011, 9:53 PM

      NATO troops Sunday handed control of the Panjshir valley to Afghan forces in the latest of a series of security transitions, Reuters reports.

      Panjshir, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) northeast of the capital Kabul, is one of Afghanistan's most peaceful regions and is the sixth of seven areas to be put under local forces' control over the past week.
       
      Although the transition timetable has been roundly criticised as politically motivated amid scepticism over the ability of Afghan forces to ward off the Taliban rebels, Panjshir is cited as ripe for the handover.
       
      Panjshiris, mainly ethnic Tajiks, pride themselves on their ferocity in keeping out the Taliban and repelled the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion.
       
      "Transition in Panjshir is very symbolic because in the last 10 years the security of Panjshir has been taken by its own people. It's an example for other provinces," defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said. 
       
      "Defending one's own land is the role and responsibility of every Afghan," Wardek said. "The enemy cannot harm anyone in this province. We all have to learn from the people of Panjshir."
       
      Panjshir was the home of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the country's much loved anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander, who was assassinated by Al Qaeda suicide bombers two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
       
      Dominated by the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush and a fast-flowing river in steep valleys, rusting hulks of Soviet tanks line Panjshir's roads - symbols of the 10 failed Russian attempts to seize the valley.
       
      To complete the first stage of transitions, most of Kabul province will be handed over to local forces shortly in a process focused on the withdrawal of 150,000 NATO-led troops by the end of 2014.