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U.S. gains more control as it fights Afghan war

The New York Times
June 12, 2009
Stephen Castle
NATO defense ministers Thursday were putting the final touches on a new command structure in Afghanistan that would tighten America's grip on military operations, reflecting the growing dominance of the United States in the alliance's campaign there, diplomats said.
The plans, expected to be approved Friday, the last day of the ministerial meetings here, would split military operations from training missions, putting three-star American generals in charge of both commands, said the diplomats, who would speak only anonymously, as is customary.
The generals would report to the new overall military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who will be responsible for the overall NATO strategy and who has been given extensive leeway by the United States to pick his direct subordinates.
To soothe European worries about an American takeover of the NATO campaign, General McChrystal will retain the British deputy commander of the alliance's mission in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Jim Dutton.
But diplomats say the reorganization of the Afghanistan command reflects the reality of United States dominance of the military campaign there.
The United States currently supplies 28,850 troops of the 61,130-strong NATO mission in Afghanistan, according to the alliance. Those figures do not take into account a separate American contribution under Operation Enduring Freedom, the counterterrorism efforts that are concentrated mainly in the south and along the border with Pakistan.
But when President Obama's surge in Afghanistan is complete, the United States will have about 68,000 troops there.
"Any concerns should not be about too much America," said James Appathurai, a NATO spokesman. "It should be about providing from other allies both militarily and in terms of civilian support."
Mr. Appathurai said that the command changes would help the cohesion of the campaign and make General McChrystal's job more manageable. "It frees him up to do the fully strategic political-military activity that a commander has to do," he said.
The urgency of that task was evident Thursday in Washington, where Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that violence in Afghanistan had increased over the past two years and that last week, attacks were at their highest levels since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. General Petraeus predicts more violence as the number of American troops increases and they begin to engage militants more actively.
"Some of this will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and safe havens as we must," General Petraeus said at a conference of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based research institution focused on the military.
Lt. Col. Erik O. Gunhus, a spokesman for General Petraeus, said later on Thursday that there were more than 400 attacks last week in Afghanistan, compared with slightly fewer than 250 each week in June of last year. In January 2004, attacks in Afghanistan numbered fewer than 50 each week, Colonel Gunhus said.
The new structure borrows from the one used in Iraq. Day-to-day military operations will be directed by Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, a friend and colleague of General McChrystal's for more than 30 years.
NATO's training mission in Afghanistan will be led by Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica, who is in charge of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the American unit coordinating the training.
Reconstruction activities will be the responsibility of General Dutton, the British deputy commander, a NATO diplomat said.
NATO ministers also agreed Thursday to cut the peacekeeping force in Kosovo to about 10,000 troops from about 14,000, as part of a plan that could reduce the alliance's strength to about 2,000 over two years.
NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the cut could be made by January.
Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
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