NATO takes command across all of Afghanistan

KABUL - NATO assumed responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan on Thursday when it took command in the east of the country from US-led coalition forces.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) already commanded forces in the north, west and south, as well as in the capital, Kabul. On Thursday it took command of about 12,000 US troops in the east.

"The unity of command that today's transition brings should enhance the effectiveness of the overall operation," the commander of NATO's Afghan force, General David Richards, said in a speech at a change-of commander ceremony in Kabul.

"ISAF has shown it has the resolve to meet the challenges of its expanded mission," he said, referring to fighting in the south since NATO took command there at the end of July.

The US troop transfer had been expected later in the year, but alliance officials said battles with resurgent guerrillas in the south showed the urgent need to pool British, Dutch and Canadian troops under NATO with the US forces.

With the inclusion of the US troops in the east, the NATO force in Afghanistan will number about 31,000 troops.

About 8,000 US troops remain in a separate force, concentrating on counter-terrorist operations and training Afghan forces.

The Afghan mission is the biggest ground operation in NATO's history.

- REUTERS

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