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NATO to Take Command of Security in Eastern Afghanistan Thursday

NATO has confirmed plans to assume military command of security operations in Afghanistan's volatile eastern provinces on Thursday. The move completes the Western alliance's expansion throughout the country and comes amid a sharp rise in insurgent violence across the country.

NATO already leads security operations in north, south and western Afghanistan.

Under the new security plan, NATO's International Security Force, known as ISAF, will take command of more than 10,000 U.S. troops stationed in the east.

Senior NATO civilian representative Daan Everts confirmed the expansion during a press conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"On October 5th, NATO's Security Assistance Force will be expanded to all of Afghanistan and most of the U.S. forces that are still operating on their own command right now in the east will join the overall ISAF organization," he said.

U.S. officials say a separate 8,000 member U.S.-led force will remain in eastern Afghanistan focusing primarily on counter-terrorism operations, including the ongoing hunt for Osama bin Laden.

With the additional U.S. forces, NATO will command around 33,000 troops, by far the alliance's largest ground operation in its 57-year history.

NATO officials say the move will help improve coordination throughout the country and increase military efficiency.

NATO acknowledges it underestimated the Taleban insurgency and may still lack sufficient troops to defeat the Islamist extremists.

Fighting has intensified throughout the Taleban's traditional stronghold in the south and east. The latest fighting occurred in the eastern Kunar Province. Officials say four Afghan and two U.S. soldiers were killed in separate gunbattles.

NATO's Daan Everts says the insurgents have clearly been testing NATO forces, a test he says the international troops have passed.

"In a way I see these tactics as acts of despair in a sense that the Taleban have nothing positive or constructive to offer the Afghan people so all they can offer is to destruct those efforts that do promise a better future," he said.

NATO officials say they will continue to pursue a two-pronged counter-insurgency effort focussing on greater security and expanded reconstruction projects.