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NATO nods to US plan on Afghan

BRUSSELS, Jun 12 – NATO defence ministers have given a green light to a US plan to streamline the way the battle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is fought in Afghanistan, an alliance spokesman said Friday.

"There is an agreement in principle to this command structure but the details will have to now be worked out," spokesman James Appathurai told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He said that at a working dinner overnight, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had clarified parts of the plan to centralise control over combat operations, Afghan military and police training, and civilian reconstruction.

"The general outlines have been agreed," he said.

The command structure will be overseen by the new head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander in Afghanistan, US Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who was expected to speak to the ministers Friday.

McChrystal’s deputy US Lieutenant General David Rodriguez would coordinate the fight against the insurgents, who are thwarting efforts to rebuild conflict-torn Afghanistan more than seven years after the Taliban were ousted.

The move coincides with a change of US strategy in Afghanistan, combining a civilian surge with a flood of troops into the southern strongholds of the Taliban and its backers.

It would see control of combat operations in the five zones – four at each point of the compass and one in Kabul – centralised in the Afghan capital to ensure that forces from more than 40 nations are pulling in the same direction.

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On the reconstruction side, efforts have proved unbalanced and disjointed, with international civilian-military rebuilding teams often working out of synch or, worse, at cross purposes with the Afghan government.

Meanwhile if foreign troops are ever to leave the country, training of the Afghan army and police – set to grow significantly in coming months – must be stepped up, with NATO set to join US training efforts there.

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