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A Four-Star Pick for Afghanistan

An American general is chosen to command U.S. and NATO forces. The move appears to elevate the Pentagon's focus on the Taliban.

September 27, 2006|From the Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — An American four-star general has been selected to take charge of U.S. and NATO forces here as they battle a resurgent Taliban militia.

Provided he is confirmed by the Senate, Army Gen. Dan K. McNeil will assume command in February, said Maj. Luke Knittig, a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security Assistance Force.

Knittig said the appointment was made in consultation with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

The announcement Tuesday came hours after a suicide bomber killed nine soldiers and nine civilians outside a provincial governor's compound in Lashkar Gah, including several Muslim pilgrims set to travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The attack at the doorstep of Helmand Gov. Mohammed Daoud Safi, who was not injured, came two weeks after militants assassinated a provincial governor and confidant of President Hamid Karzai.

McNeil's appointment appears to elevate the importance of the Afghan war for the Pentagon, since four stars is the U.S. military's highest rank and both the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are now led by three-star generals.

Washington previously put a four-star Army general, George W. Casey Jr., in charge of operations in Iraq.

Another four-star Army general, John P. Abizaid, is the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.

There is growing concern about increases in Taliban strength, numbers and brutality. The U.S. military estimates that 4,000 Taliban fighters are operating in southern Afghanistan.

The arrival of McNeil, who served as coalition forces commander in Afghanistan in 2002-03, will coincide with a small increase in foreign troop levels, expected to rise to about 42,500 from 40,000, Knittig said.

The United States supplies the largest number of foreign troops there.

McNeil is expected to try to improve military relations between Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, whose leaders often blame each other for not doing enough to counter the Taliban resurgence.

Karzai met with President Bush on Tuesday in Washington. The two will meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf today.

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