Fri, May 23, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Dutch, British to extend Afghanistan commands

AP , WASHINGTON

The US Defense Department said on Wednesday it has shelved a plan to take greater control in parts of Afghanistan where NATO is in charge after the Dutch and British agreed to extend their commands.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Netherlands and Britain will stay in control in southern Afghanistan for a full year, rather than a few more months, as the military alliance fights a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

The European allies agreed to the new arrangement in recent conversations with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Morrell said.

“I think we’re trying to create a situation in which ... by the command serving longer, there’ll be greater stability and continuity to our operations” in southern Afghanistan, Morrell said.

The US raised the idea and allies signed on, he said.

The US has complained that changing commands every nine months and rotating troops even more frequently do not provide the necessary continuity for an effective fight against the insurgency, particularly in Afghanistan’s volatile south.

In recent months, the Pentagon suggested giving the US military more authority in those areas now under NATO command. US control is now limited to eastern Afghanistan.

Gates said that the idea, which reflected internal discussion, was worth considering. US military leaders had expressed concern about a lack of continuity among NATO forces.

Also, there was a sense that, in the long run, it might be better for NATO to focus mainly on areas with less fighting but a great need for noncombat aid — in Afghanistan’s north and west, for example.

Taliban resistance has stiffened in the south since NATO took command there in mid-2006. Some officials in the Pentagon have said the fight against the Taliban could gain strength if the US also took charge in part or all the south.

Asked if the new agreement ends discussion that one country — likely the US — take charge of operations in the south, Morrell said it addresses the issue there for at least the next two-and-a-half years.

A NATO official said on Wednesday that while the US floated the idea of controlling the south, the Pentagon did not press hard for the plan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not involved in the Pentagon’s announcement, said there were no real disputes over the plan.

Under the new agreement, the Canadians, who now control the south, will leave in November and the Dutch will assume command. In November next year the British would take over, and the US is on tap to take command of the region in November 2010.

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