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thedrifter
03-31-06, 01:22 PM
March 31, 2006
Jones hopes NATO can cover all of Afghanistan

By Paul Ames
Associated Press

CASTEAU, Belgium — NATO’s chief operational commander said Friday he hopes the alliance’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan will be able to complete its expansion to cover the whole of the country by the end of August, several months before previous expectations.

Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones said the force could then total as many as 25,000 troops, up from the current 8,400.


Many of the additional troops will be Americans who already are serving in restive eastern Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led counterterrorism mission, but will switch to a NATO command under a British general.

“It’s better to do it sooner than later,” Jones told a small group of reporters over breakfast at NATO’s military headquarters in southern Belgium.

NATO’s mission has been limited to the capital, Kabul, and the relatively peaceful northern and western regions. The alliance is due to expand into the more dangerous southern sector by the end of July with 9,000 extra troops, mostly from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.

Jones said the next stage — taking the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force into the east along the mountainous Pakistani border regions — could be completed within a month, since it does not involve mustering additional troops but entails simply “re-badging” U.S. troops already there.

The United States has about 16,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.

The vast majority operate outside NATO’s peacekeeping mission in a separate, U.S.-led operation focused on the hunt for remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and their al-Qaida allies. NATO officials said 6,000-10,000 of the U.S. troops would likely switch to the alliance’s mission, while the rest — mainly special forces — would continue the counterterrorism operation.

U.S. troops have served under European generals during NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, but Jones said the decision to place so many Americans on an alliance mission was significant.

“It is an expression of confidence in the alliance,” Jones said. “It is a little bit of a departure.”

British Army Lt. Gen. David Richards is scheduled to take command of the force in May from the current head of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Mauro Del Vecchio of the Italian army.

On a March 6 visit to Washington, Jones suggested the NATO expansion could be completed by November, but said that if allies agreed, it should be done earlier. “In the interests of unity of command and unity of effort, we think this would be a good thing,” he said.

Jones insisted NATO’s ongoing move into southern Afghanistan would boost security in a region that has been bedeviled with violence blamed on warlords and drugs barons as well as Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

“There will be more military capacity in that part of the country than ever before,” Jones said. “Those who incite or commit acts of violence (will) either need to cease or desist or go elsewhere because they simply won’t survive in that environment.”

As the mission expands, Jones said NATO could increase the number of its teams supporting reconstruction efforts around the country. There are currently 23 such “provincial reconstruction teams” in cities around Afghanistan under NATO or U.S. command. Jones said NATO could add 10 more within the next year.

Ellie