KABUL, Afghanistan, July 11, 2006 – The transition of security responsibilities in southern Afghanistan to NATO will be positive for Afghanistan and enable U.S. forces to expand their focus on the counterinsurgency movement there, the top U.S. general here said today. NATO International Security Assistance Forces have been operating in Afghanistan since 2003, gradually increasing their role, but the move into southern Afghanistan will put them into an active counterinsurgency fight, Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, told reporters in Tajikistan before boarding a plane for Kabul with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Many of the forces operating in southern Afghanistan are under coalition authority, so the most notable change when NATO takes over will be at the senior leadership level, Eikenberry said. He noted that NATO will bring more presence and capability to the area in terms of troops as well as budget. "NATO is bringing an extraordinary amount of capability into southern Afghanistan," he said.
Rumsfeld said in a July 9 interview during his flight to Central Asia that one purpose of his visit here is to help acclimate the Afghan government to NATO's increased involvement. This is the first time NATO has operated outside its treaty area and outside Europe, so it is a new experience for everyone involved, he added. Rumsfeld is meeting here with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Cabinet, as well as U.S. military leaders, to help smooth that transition.
As the transition moves forward, the U.S. military will play a dual role. It will continue to make a large contribution to NATO forces in the south, while still maintaining a counterterrorism strike force in Afghanistan, Eikenberry said. The U.S. will contribute combat forces, helicopters and logistics support to NATO forces, he said, making it by far the largest contributing force in NATO.
"Beyond our NATO role, the U.S. will maintain what we've had on the ground since 2001 -- a very robust, very capable, U.S.-led counterterrorist strike force capable of going anywhere in Afghanistan any time as needed to attack and defeat al Qaeda and its associated movements," he said.
The U.S. military will also still play a leading role in developing the Afghan National Army, and a supporting role in forming the Afghan National Police, Eikenberry said. As NATO takes more responsibility, its security forces will play a larger role in this area also, he noted. The NATO transition in Afghanistan is currently in the third stage, Eikenberry said. During the fourth and final stage, NATO will expand across the entire country. Conditions for this final stage are still being defined, he said.