Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan: NATO troops on Sunday handed control of the Panjshir valley, a fiercely anti-Taliban province, to Afghan forces in the latest of a series of security transitions.
Panjshir, around 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 having kept out the Taliban and repelled the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion, and the beautiful valley is now a favoured picnicking spot for visitors from Kabul.
"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," said defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, speaking at the official transition ceremony.
"Defending one's own land is the role and responsibility of every Afghan." "The enemy cannot harm anyone in this province. We all have to learn from the people of Panjshir," he said.
The area was the home of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the country's much loved anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander who was assassinated by Al Qaida 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 Russians' failure to win the area despite 10 attempts.
US and Afghan officials hope this history and natural beauty will in future bring tourists to Panjshir and boost the nation's economy as foreign forces pull out and as aid money falls in the years ahead.
Massoud's tomb in the province is being developed into a $10 million attraction complete with mosque, library and conference centre. Officials expect Massoud's legacy to act as a focal point for tourism, along with adventure activities such as mountain trekking and kayaking.
But tourists may be scarce for many years due to record levels of violence in the country-wide insurgency against the Western-backed government.
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. Kabul city has been under Afghan security since 2008.