May 21, 2008 / 4:24 PM / 12 years ago

NATO Afghan chief wants talks on command in south

By Andrew Gray

WASHINGTON, May 21 (Reuters) - The top NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday he favored talks to end the rotating command among allied forces in the violent south of the country, where the United States has added more troops.

U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill also said he still needed more troops and aircraft for his 50,000-strong force, declaring he was a "fairly frugal dude" and only asked for what he needed.

"I am in favor of a dialogue by the policymakers and the politicians about the consideration of one country leading a multinational headquarters in the south," McNeill told reporters in Washington by videolink from Kabul.

Command of Afghanistan’s southern sector, scene of the heaviest fighting with Taliban insurgents, currently rotates between Britain, the Netherlands and Canada, which all have substantial contingents of troops there.

But the United States has deployed more than 2,000 Marines to the south this year and some diplomats see the debate about the command as a U.S. effort to take charge of the region.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month it was "certainly worth taking a look at" whether the United States should take command of the south but Washington would consult closely with its NATO allies.

McNeill said Afghan security forces had trouble adapting to different commands with different ways of operating.

"It is sometimes a little difficult for them to change from one culture to the next," he said.

Losing a command role would be a blow to the prestige of any nation, but could be particularly hard for nations like Canada and the Netherlands, where the Afghan mission — and its toll in casualties — is politically controversial.

McNeill did not say if he had a view on which nation should take command in the south. He indicated he supported an end to rotation but stopped short of saying so explicitly.

"Dialogue typically results in some outcome, and you’ve just defined what would be a reasonable outcome," he said when asked about the idea of having one country in overall charge.

McNeill said his International Security Assistance Force remained "under-resourced" despite having increased from under 36,000 troops when he took command in February 2007.

"I’m a child of children of the American Great Depression and I’m a fairly frugal dude and I ask usually only for the things that I need," he said.

McNeill did not give figures for the additional resources he wanted, but Pentagon officials have said he has a "wish list" amounting to three extra brigades. That could mean anything between 9,000 to 15,000 extra soldiers. (Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels)

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