(by Sara A. Carter, WashingtonTimes.com) – About 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be transferred from NATO to direct American command in a bid to improve the training and coordination of the Afghan military and police, Pentagon officials announced Monday.
The troops will fall under the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) command, giving commander Gen. David McKiernan better control of all U.S. military assets in the country, defense officials in Washington and Kabul said. The remaining 13,000 U.S. troops in the country will continue to report directly to the U.S. Central Command, soon to be headed by Gen. David H. Petraeus.
Gen. McKiernan is commander of both USFOR-A and the NATO force known as International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
A defense official in Washington, speaking on the condition that he not be named, said the reassignment would make Gen. McKiernan “completely” responsible for the training mission, which had been conducted in Afghanistan by both NATO and U.S. forces.
Concerns over corruption in the Afghan police and army are jeopardizing the U.S.-led mission.
The military is “counting on better training and coordination to root out any possible pitfalls that may have been missed when the training fell under two different chains of command,” said a U.S. defense official in Kabul, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Pentagon made the announcement as U.S. officials said they had no prior knowledge of meetings last month in Saudi Arabia between Saudi King Abdullah and representatives of the Afghan Taliban, a powerful Afghan warlord and the Afghan government.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Afghan Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, told the Associated Press in Kabul that the meeting was not a negotiation. Mr. Zaeef said he was invited by Abdullah to share a meal breaking the Ramadan fast.
“This is not new; it’s a kind of a guest celebration,” said Mr. Zaeef, who was detained for four years in the U.S. military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr. Zaeef said others invited included former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil and members of a resistance movement led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as well as Afghan government officials, whom he did not name.
The defense official in Afghanistan said the Bush administration was surprised that the Afghan government had not told the United States about the meeting in advance. He said, however, that he was not surprised by the meeting itself because of Saudi contacts with the Taliban dating to the group’s emergence in the late 1980s when it was fighting Soviet occupation.
The U.S. official cautioned that reports of “peace talks” were only speculation and that “U.S. officials still aren’t sure what took place … in Saudi Arabia.”
A senior State Department official said his department also was seeking clarification but supported efforts for Afghan reconciliation.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday endorsed efforts to reach out to members of the Taliban or other militants in Afghanistan who may be considered reconcilable.
“That is one of the key long-term solutions in Afghanistan, just as it has been in Iraq,” he told reporters en route to Europe, according to the Associated Press. “Part of the solution is reconciliation with people who are willing to work with the Afghan government going forward.”
Nadeem Kiyani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, told The Washington Times that his nation supports any efforts to reconcile and bring an end to the violence.
“[Afghan] President Hamid Karzai is reaching out as we have done,” Mr. Kiyani said.
Mr. Karzai said last week that he has urged the Saudi king repeatedly to facilitate peace talks with the Taliban.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. How many U.S. troops will be transferred from NATO to direct American command in Afghanistan?
2. What is the reason for the troop transfer?
3. How will the troop transfer affect General David McKiernan’s command?
4. a) What problem with the Afghan police and army is the U.S. military aiming at fixing with the troop shift?
b) How do they expect it to help?
5. a) Why did Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah meet with Afghan leaders and Taliban last month?
b) How did U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates react to the meeting?
6. Do you think the troop transfer is a good strategy for improving the situation in Afghanistan? Explain your answer.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on 4 April 1949. In accordance with the Treaty, the fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. NATO is playing an increasingly important role in crisis management and peacekeeping.
Through the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) NATO is assisting the Afghan Government in extending and exercising its authority and influence across the country, creating the conditions for stabilization and reconstruction.
ISAF’s key military tasks include assisting the Afghan government in extending its authority across the country, conducting stability and security operations in co-ordination with the Afghan national security forces; mentoring and supporting the Afghan national army; and supporting Afghan government programmes to disarm illegally armed groups.
Read about CentCom (U.S. Central Command) and specifically the work in Afghanistan at centcom.mil.