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New US general appointed to Afghan NATO force

Latest update : 2008-06-03

The 50,000 NATO troops serving in Afghanistan have a new commander as of Tuesday: US General David McKiernan, who vows to continue the mission "without missing a beat".

KABUL, June 3 (Reuters) - U.S. General David McKiernan took
command of around 50,000 troops in NATO's International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan on Tuesday,
pledging that anyone who stood in the way of security would be
dealt with.

McKiernan takes over ISAF at a time when the international
community is trying to input new momentum into military and aid
efforts in Afghanistan, but the Taliban show few signs of
bringing an end to their insurgency.

ISAF has grown from some 36,000 troops a year ago and the
Afghan army has more than doubled in size from just over 20,000
at the beginning of last year to about 57,000 now.

The large Taliban offensives in 2006 in the south, in which
the insurgents suffered heavy losses, have not been repeated
and many militant commanders have been killed or captured in a
campaign to decapitate the hardline Islamist guerrilla

But the Taliban have answered back with suicide bomb
campaigns across the country that have undermined the
perception of security among Afghans frustrated with the
seeming inability of their government and Western troops to
stop the attacks.

"While today marks a transition in commanders, the mission
must continue without missing a beat," said McKiernan after
taking command from retiring U.S. General Dan McNeill.

McKiernan described ISAF's mission as: "Support to the
government of Afghanistan in bringing security, reconstruction
and development, and effective governance to the country."

"Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who
stand in the way of that mission will be dealt with."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said McKiernan faced a
difficult task.

"We will have a lot of days of working together, a lot of
happy days, but also some sad days. We will lose lives, NATO
soldiers will lose lives, Afghan soldiers, Afghan personnel
will lose lives ... but we must remain steadfast," Karzai said
in a speech at the handover ceremony.

The president, facing elections next year, has been
increasingly critical of the international presence in
Afghanistan, saying foreign forces are heavy-handed and the aid
effort lacks coordination and effectiveness.

Many in ISAF and the United Nations meanwhile often now
talk of the need for good governance in Afghanistan, one of the
poorest, most corrupt countries in the world and its biggest
producer and exporter of opium and heroin.

Afghanistan is due to meet its international donors in
Paris on June 12 where Karzai is to ask for $50 billion to fund
a development plan his government has drawn up.

While it is far from clear whether anything like that
figure will be raised, the international community is likely to
demand in return for its continued backing a new commitment
from Karzai to fight official corruption.


Date created : 2008-06-03