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Afghanistan's test case: NATO handover in Laghman Province

US policymakers will watch Afghanistan's ability to maintain stability in Laghman Province as a litmus test for its forces' capabilities in the rest of the country.

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Ashraf Ghani, head of the Transition Commission raises Afghanistan's flag during the transfer of authority in Mehterlam, Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan on July 19.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP

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After a decade of war in Afghanistan, international forces began handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces in seven areas across the country this week, marking the first major step toward ending NATO-led combat missions here by 2014.

Although most of the seven areas that Afghan forces will assume responsibility for have been some of the most peaceful regions in the country, Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, and Mihtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province, are likely to be a litmus test for the path forward.

Throughout the course of the war, fighting in Helmand has cost the lives of more international soldiers than any other province in the country, but in the capital and central part of the province the situation appears to have stabilized. Meanwhile, the situation in the east has deteriorated. While Laghman was not the most violent province in the eastern region, it is a gateway to Kabul and stopping the spread of violence there is critical.

Whether Afghan forces are capable of maintaining security gains in Lashkar Gah and protecting Mihtarlam from growing instability will provide policymakers with critical information to determine the pace of the drawdown.

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