BRUSSELS - NATO ministers have backed a U.S. shake-up of military command in Afghanistan based on a model used in Iraq, as well as plans to step up training of Afghan security forces, a NATO spokesman said on Friday.
Washington has named U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal to overall command of the international operation in Afghanistan, with a deputy to run day-to-day military operations and another to oversee training.
The structure draws heavily on U.S. experience in Iraq.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said defense ministers from the 28-nation NATO military alliance backed the plan at a meeting in Brussels.
Details will have to be now worked out and consulted amongst allies exactly how it will be implemented, but the general outlines have been agreed in principle, he said.
Lieutenant-General David Rodriguez, a former U.S. and NATO commander in eastern Afghanistan who now serves as Defense Secretary Robert Gates' right-hand military man, will effectively run day-to-day war operations.
This will leave McChrystal, a workaholic veteran of the secretive world of special operations who is currently director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, to focus on strategy and other tasks such as liaising with Afghan and NATO leaders and pushing forward the training of Afghan security forces.
AFGHANISTAN OBAMA'S TOP PRIORITY
The decision last month to dismiss U.S. Army General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan and, effectively, replace him with not one but two highly rated generals reflects a sense of urgency in the Obama administration about the war.
With insurgent violence on the rise, U.S. officials have acknowledged they are not winning in Afghanistan and the administration has declared the war its top military priority.
Appathurai said the command shake-up was needed given the big surge in troop numbers announced by Obama.
The United States has increased its military presence to 56,000 troops, from about 32,000 in late 2008, and expects a rise to some 68,000 by autumn. This is in addition to some 33,000 troops from NATO and partner countries.
Washington and its allies are also stepping up efforts to build up the Afghan army and police to more than 200,000 personnel.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the international effort in Afghanistan faced real challenges, citing August 20 presidential elections, insurgent violence, and slow progress in reconstruction and development efforts.
Meeting them will not be easy, he told the NATO meeting, at which McChrystal was presented.
U.S. officials have urged European states to deliver on pledges to step up commitments to the Afghan effort and be prepared to do more, by sending more troops, funds, or experts.
Appathurai said allies were expected to agree to a long-running call for the deployment of NATO Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft to Afghanistan to help deal with increased air traffic, something that has been held up by disputes over who should pay and how AWACs should be employed.
He said the decision could mean three to four of the high-tech aircraft would be deployed.
Many European states have been reluctant to make major new commitments to the war, saying their forces are overstretched and citing public opposition to greater involvement.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)