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US Considers Retaking Military Command of Southern Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he is considering the idea of putting U.S. forces in command of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan.

Gates said Friday that the United States needs to reexamine its military arrangements in Afghanistan, including whether it makes sense to have two combat commands in one country.

He says Washington will consult with its NATO allies before any decision to take command of southern Afghanistan.

Taliban violence in the south has increased sharply since NATO forces took command there in 2006 from the U.S. military.

The New York Times reports Saturday that the U.S Defense Department also is considering sending up to 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year.

The newspaper quotes unnamed U.S. officials as saying the step would make up for a shortfall in troop contributions from other NATO members.

In another development, the British military says a mine blast killed one British soldier and wounded two others Friday in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. It says the British soldiers were on a patrol in the Nowzad district when their vehicle hit the mine.

Most NATO soldiers operating in Helmand are British. Some U.S. Marines also moved into the province last week to bolster operations against Taliban militants.

Currently in Afghanistan, about 16,000 U.S. soldiers serve as part of the NATO force, which also includes troops from Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. Another 18,000 American troops operate under the U.S. military's Central Command.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.