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US Considering Changes to Afghanistan Coalition Command Structure


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Pentagon officials are discussing possible changes to the NATO and coalition command structure in Afghanistan. But he says the United States is not ready to make a formal proposal to its allies. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

When Secretary Gates announced Wednesday that the current U.S. and coalition commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is being nominated as the new head of U.S. Central Command, the secretary said he recommended the move because Petraeus is the U.S. military's top expert on "asymmetric warfare."

That term refers to the type of conflict common to Iraq and Afghanistan, where conventional armies are fighting insurgents. Petraeus is widely credited with making enormous strides against insurgents in Iraq during the year he has led coalition forces there.

Central Command normally supervises U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But a year and a half ago most of the international forces in Afghanistan, including most of the U.S. troops, were put under NATO control, leaving the Central Command chief outside their chain of command.

That is something Secretary Gates says U.S. officials might want to change.

"There's been a lot of discussion in this building about whether we have the best possible command arrangements in Afghanistan," said Secretary Gates. "I've made no decisions. I've made no recommendations to the president. We're still discussing it."

Afghanistan currently has a dual command structure, with some of the 35,000 U.S. troops, and some forces from other nations, still under the original U.S.-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Some officers complain that the dual command is not as effective or coordinated as it should be. But Secretary Gates says it may be difficult to change.

"The command structure, I think, is a sensitive matter in terms of the eyes of our allies," he said. "And so if there were to be any discussion of changes in the command structure, it would require some pretty intensive consultations with our allies and discussion about what makes sense going forward."

Secretary Gates says there have been no such consultations so far.

But unless the structure is changed, General Petraeus' ability to impact the military effort in Afghanistan will likely be limited, as was the ability of his predecessor Admiral William Fallon. Still, Secretary Gates says he expects General Petraeus to have some focus on Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan was high on Admiral Fallon's list," added Robert Gates. "It's an important theater of action right now. And I assume it'll be very high on General Petraeus' list as well."

The questions about the Afghanistan command structure persist in spite of the fact that both the top NATO commander in the country and his superior at NATO military headquarters near Brussels are Americans. But those officers are limited by NATO policy decisions, made by consensus, and by restrictions most member states put on the use of their forces.

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