Afghan President Hamid Karzai has a message for the Taliban: if they want foreigners to leave Afghanistan, they should let children be educated.
"Burning schools is a cowardly act," he said in televised remarks on the first day of school after the Afghan new year, the BBC reported. "Don't destroy the future of this poor suffering nation that finally has some opportunities.
"The school is a public place where the sons and daughters of this land learn in order to serve the nation. If you want foreign troops to leave this country, than let Afghan sons and daughters be educated."
School enrollment has risen sharply since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, but estimates still suggest fewer than a third of Afghans are literate. Female education was banned under Taliban rule.
More than 450 schools have remained closed due to security reasons, mostly in the southern region where Taliban militants are active, according to Afghan Minister for Education Farooq Wardak, the BBC reported. Schoolgirls are considered particularly vulnerable to attack.
Karzai on Tuesday announced that Afghan forces were taking over security in a number of provinces from from July, relegating NATO forces to a "supporting" role.
The transition would take place throughout three provinces: Bamiyan, Panjshir and Kabul, in four cities: Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north; Herat, in the west; Lashkar Gah, in the south; and Mehterlam, the capital of Laghman province.
Afghan troops already handle most day-to-day security in the capital, Kabul.
The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, reportedly told members of the U.N. Security Council last week that the operations for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan were geared toward transition.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday praised Afghanistan for taking control of its future.
"As we have long said, the Afghans themselves must take responsibility for their own future — for providing security, for strengthening governance and for reaching a political solution to the conflict," she said, UPI reported.