Quran burnings, killings of international troops by Afghan forces, continuing insurgent attacks — none of it is affecting the timetable for handover of security responsibilities in Afghanistan, the top NATO official for transition planning said Wednesday at the Pentagon.

“I’ve certainly seen nothing to date at all that questions the pace of transition,” said British Brig. Gen. Richard Cripwell, the International Security Assistance Force strategic transition director. “Transition is simply about security forces being able to be in the lead. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all the challenges that lie within that district or province have been solved.”

In May, the NATO alliance entered third phase of a five-step security handover, which officials say will end with all provincial capitals and the majority of the Afghan population in areas where Afghan security forces have taken the lead. Transition is scheduled to be complete throughout the country by the end of 2014, when NATO combat forces will largely depart.

Cripwell said the Afghan force is advancing in its competence and doing “very serious soldiering.”

The force is improving from top to bottom, and a question based on the premise some NATO troops regard many lower-echelon Afghan troops as incompetent drew a rebuff from the British general.

“You cannot mount, as the Afghans are doing, brigade-level operations and hope that a thin veneer of professionalism is in some way hiding a basic incompetence below that,” he said. “A brigade operation requires a properly trained and indeed, resourced force. They’re doing that around the country.

“So I certainly haven’t heard the apocryphal stories that you mentioned, and I don’t believe the evidence on the ground would support them either.”

Twitter: ChrisCarroll_

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