A new commander has taken charge of U.S. forces in Europe, and will
take command of all NATO forces on Thursday, as the alliance makes a
new push to bring stability to Afghanistan.
It was the first time a naval officer took
command of U.S. forces in Europe, as Admiral James Stavridis replaced
General John Craddock. After the ceremony, the admiral told reporters
about his goals for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
"We need to
pursue policies in Afghanistan that put the defense and the security of
the Afghan people at the center of our efforts, all of our efforts, our
allied efforts, our U.S. efforts, and so on, because that is the key to
dealing with an insurgency," he said.
As the U.S. European and
NATO military chief, Admiral Stavridis will command troops from all
services and all alliance countries. In his last post, as commander of
all U.S. forces in Latin America, he built a reputation as a military
leader who makes use of civilian capabilities to build broad
relationships with friendly nations.
Stavridis said that fits
with the mission in Afghanistan, where the measurements of success,
what the military calls 'metrics,' have more to do with civilian issues
than battlefield successes.
"The metrics are not body counts,"
he said. "The metrics are everything from road building to agricultural
improvements to improvements in counter-narcotics to schools, all of
those are the metrics that are most important here."
Stavridis was reluctant to discuss specifics just a few minutes after
taking command, but he said this when asked whether he would be seeking
more NATO troops for Afghanistan.
"I am very interested in finding additional and alternative ways that the allies can contribute," he said.
fits with the approach U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has taken
for the past year, recognizing that while the United States is nearly
doubling its troop level in Afghanistan most NATO countries are not
willing to send more combat troops, although they may be willing to
send trainers or equipment or money.
Gates attended the ceremony in Stuttgart.
nations are again engaged in a war whose outcome and duration is
uncertain. But I am confident we will summon the will and courage to
do what we must in Afghanistan," he said.
The top U.S. military
officer, Admiral Mike Mullen also attended the ceremony. On his way to
Stuttgart, Mullen told reporters on his aircraft this change-of-command
completes his new leadership team for Afghanistan, with Stavridis
joining the head of U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, and
the new U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, General Stanley McChrystal.
all recognize that this is the team. It is sort of, Mullen, Stavridis,
Petraeus, McChrystal, that must move this forward militarily. And we
are very committed to doing that. And I am very comfortable with the
relationships that everybody has in that regard," he said.
relationships are important because responsibility for the war in
Afghanistan is split between General Petraeus, who is responsible for
all U.S. military activity in the Middle East and Central Asia, and
Admiral Stavridis, who, as NATO commander, will have ultimate
responsibility for the majority of U.S. and international troops in
The complex arrangement has caused some confusion
in the past, and Admiral Mullen says these new commanders will need to
work together at a critical time, with the new U.S. strategy being
implemented, more troops arriving and, he says, increasing attacks by
insurgents as the summer fighting season in Afghanistan gets into full
"They have gotten more sophisticated each year, sort of
picking up from that point of view. But a huge difference this year is
clearly the troops that we have there. We could not clear and hold in
the South last year. Now, we will be able to do that," he said.
said the European Command / NATO assignment requires the "most deft
touch" of all the major U.S. commands, the kind of skill needed to deal
with dozens of countries trying to fight a difficult and far-away war.