From the New York Times, Sept. 29:
PORTOROZ, Slovenia — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld agreed Thursday to put 12,000 American combat troops in eastern Afghanistan under NATO command, possibly as soon as next month, officials said.
The plan approved at a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in this Adriatic resort town would extend the alliance’s area of operations across all of Afghanistan but also leave some 10,000 American troops, including special forces units, still under exclusive American control with authority to operate throughout the country.
The Bush administration has long sought to draw NATO into a larger role in providing security and reconstruction assistance in the country.
But bringing additional American troops deployed along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border under the NATO umbrella was undertaken now as a show of unity at a time when Taliban fighters have intensified attacks against NATO forces, which just two months ago took over responsibility for security in southern Afghanistan, several officials said.
NATO has showed “resolve, a lot of resolve, to stay the course in Afghanistan,” NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after the foreign ministers approved the NATO expansion.
Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters that the extension of NATO’s command into the American sector in the east would happen “in the days and weeks ahead.”
The exact timing of the move appeared linked to whether European governments themselves provide the additional forces that NATO military planners have requested for southern Afghanistan as well as progress on easing country-by-country restrictions that limit their use in combat.
In discussions Thursday, a NATO official said several countries discussed providing additional troops or equipment, including Denmark, the Czech Republic and Canada. Those offers followed similar public promises of additional help in recent weeks by Poland, which said it would send as many 1,000 additional troops, and Romania.
But major European powers, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, have not sent additional troops to the south, saying their armed forces are stretched thin in other parts of Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The American decision to place more than half its forces under NATO’s theater commander, British Lt. Gen. David J. Richards, gives the alliance a total of 32,000 soldiers from 37 countries. Pentagon officials said the 12,000 American troops would be the largest number to fall under the command of a foreign general since at least World War II.
In practical, terms, American troops are likely to notice little difference under NATO command. Their day-to-day commander will remain Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, and an American four-star general, Daniel K. McNeil, has been nominated by President Bush to take over as the top NATO commander in Afghanistan from General Richards as soon as next February.
Asked if the American soldiers could be used to buttress NATO efforts in the south, where British, Canadian and Dutch forces have faced tough fighting while inflicting heavy casualties on Taliban fighters recently, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said he knew of no limits imposed by Washington on where they could go.
But American officials said it was unlikely that American units would be shifted in large numbers to the south because they were needed along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where attacks have also intensified.
NATO officials warned Thursday that the inclusion of American troops under the NATO umbrella should not be used by other European allies as an excuse to avoid fulfilling remaining force requirements for southern Afghanistan.
“We have generated many forces, but we need to do more there,” said Mr. de Hoop Scheffer.
Mr. Rumsfeld noted that, in addition to supplying more forces and equipment, NATO governments are under pressure to lift so-called national caveats that restrict how their and where their forces can be employed in Afghanistan.
The biggest hurdles, officials said, are countries that bar their troops from being moved to the south, where the toughest fighting has been occurring.
It is “difficult for the commander when he is not able to move forces around,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, adding that the caveats in the aggregate create a “situation that is not acceptable.”
But Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said that Germany, which has around 3,000 troops mostly in northern Afghanistan where there is little fighting, informed other NATO ministers that it would not lift restrictions that prevent its forces from being moved to the south. Any such redeployment must be approved by the German parliament, where there is strong opposition to involving its forces in possible combat.
“I know that in Germany this is not an easy thing to do,” he said.
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