PORTOROZ, Slovenia – A plan approved Thursday to extend NATO’s military control across all of Afghanistan would put as many as 12,000 American troops under foreign battlefield command, a number that U.S. officials said could be the highest since World War II.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hailed the change as a “bold step forward.”
The move is expected to take place in the next few weeks, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.
The largest number of U.S. troops ever under the control of foreign battlefield commanders was about 300,000 during World War I, said military officials traveling with Rumsfeld to the NATO meeting. It was not clear how many troops were under foreign command during World War II.
A U.S. officer, Gen. James L. Jones, is in charge of the overall NATO force, but the new arrangement would put the U.S. troops under foreign commanders on the battlefield.
Rumsfeld told reporters that some countries had stepped forward in response to appeals from NATO commanders for as many as 2,500 more troops to join the operation against the Taliban in the south. But he said more were still needed.
NATO-led troops took command of the southern portion of Afghanistan just two months ago and have been struggling to stem the escalating violence there. This plan would extend their control to the eastern section, which U.S. troops now command.
Plans all along have been for NATO to take over the military in all regions of the country. NATO’s takeover of the eastern section had been expected to happen later this fall, switching at least 10,000 American troops from U.S. command to alliance control – specifically that of British Lt. Gen. David Richards. Currently about 2,000 U.S. troops are serving under NATO commanders in other portions of Afghanistan.