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Fourth Phase of Security Transition in Afghanistan: Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that the fourth phase would begin in the transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO troops to Afghan security forces. "The Afghan people, as well as their American and ISAF partners, should take pride in what they have accomplished and in their ability to effectively carry out this transition process," said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a statement on Dec. 31, the same day as Karzai's announcement. In the coming months, security for 12 additional Afghan provinces—mostly in the north and interior of the country—will shift to Afghan control, according to a Pentagon release. This means that 23 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces—containing 87 percent of the Afghan population—will have begun the transition thus far under the planned five-phase process that began in March 2011. NATO plans to have its combat forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and then continue in the role of training, advising, and assisting the Afghan security forces. The transition's final phase is expected to commence by the summer. (See also ISAF release, Rasmussen statement, and Voice of America report.)