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    Nangarhar security under threat: Ghani

    JALALABAD (PAN): Illegal armed groups and individuals posed a serious threat to the security situation in eastern Nangarhar province, a senior government official warned on Thursday.

    Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the security transition commission head, said the security situation in the province had begun to deteriorate with the emergence of armed groups and individuals.

    The security responsibility for Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and four districts was handed over to Afghan forces at a ceremony marking the second round of transition in Jalalabad.

    Ghani warned if urgent steps were not taken to bust the gangs, the situation in Nangarhar would further worsen. "Those who have received huge favours from the government are now trying to derail the system."

    If police lacked the ability to cope with internal threats posed by powerful individuals, the Karzai administration should call in the army, Ghani suggested, saying Nuristan and Kunar were also under threat from insurgents.

    Deputy Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahman said cooperation from parliamentarians and provincial council members with security forces. "We can deal with the armed groups with an iron fist, but the issue needs to be resolved by politicians."

    Chief of Army Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi told reporters they could not launch operations against Afghans. However, he promised the issue in Nangarhar would be resolved after security transition.

    Deputy Governor Mohammad Hanif Gardiwal confirmed armed groups had been active and posed a threat to the security situation in the province. "We are concerned about individuals totting illegal arms."

    Rahman said some lawmakers and provincial council members were behind such groups.

    The security responsibility for Surkhrod, Kama, Behsud and Shewa districts was transferred to the Afghan forces, with Ghani hoping the international community would continue to train and equip local forces.

    Afghan forces had the ability to maintain security in Nangarhar on their own, he said, adding the army and police had an annual budget of $7 billion (345 billion afs).

    In May, an international conference on Afghanistan is scheduled to take place in Chicago with focus on international funding for Afghan forces after the 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops.

    Ghani suggested the Cabinet should cut the cost of construction projects. "One kilometre of road costs $150,000 (7,401,000 afs) in neighbouring countries, but its costs $800,000 (39,472,000 afs) or more in Afghanistan."

    Gen. Karimi asserted ANA's ability to defend the country with the available resources. He said the army was able to counter foreign aggression and the government should find a homegrown solution to internal problems.

    A US Embassy official, Richard Wilson, said his country backed the transition process, which did not mean an end to American cooperation with Afghanistan.