Asia Crisis

NATO backs US shake-up in Afghan command

* Changes based on Iraq model

* Aim to improve efficiency amid troop surge

* Gates sees opportunity to turn tide (Recasts throughout with news conferences)

BRUSSELS, June 12 (Reuters) - NATO on Friday backed a U.S. shake-up of military command in Afghanistan, as well as plans to step up training of Afghan forces, and Washington said it saw the chance of turning the tide in the war within a year.

The United States has named U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal to overall command of U.S., NATO and allies forces 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 Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said defence ministers from the 28-nation NATO military alliance backed the plan at a meeting in Brussels.

"The logic is clear, because the mission has now grown to over 60,000 and it will keep growing," he said of the NATO-led component of the international military presence. "There is an ever greater requirement for coordination."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has urged European allies to step up their commitments after a big increase in U.S. troop numbers, said allies were now playing an increasingly important role and looking to step up their commitments.

He said insurgent activity had increased year after year and heavy fighting could be expected in the coming year, but added:

"I think that with the additional forces, and all of the other things we are doing...we have the chance to turn the tide of that momentum during the course of the next year."

Washington has increased its 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.


De Hoop Scheffer said ministers had confirmed plans to send 8-10,000 troops to protect an Aug. 20 presidential election and to deploy NATO Airborne Warning and Control aircraft to help deal with greater air traffic coming with big troop increases.

They also agreed to implement a coordinated NATO training mission aimed at building up the Afghan army and police to more than 200,000 personnel.

With insurgent violence at its worst level since the Taliban's 2001 overthrow, U.S. officials have acknowledged they are not winning in Afghanistan and the administration has declared the war its top military priority.

The move last month to dismiss U.S. General David McKiernan as the commander in Afghanistan and replace him with two highly rated generals reflects the sense of urgency.

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.

De Hoop Scheffer said the international effort in Afghanistan faced "real challenges", citing the elections, insurgent violence, and slow progress in reconstruction and development efforts. "Meeting them will not be easy," he said.

He said he hoped that countries sending more troops for the elections would agree to let them stay on and also called for greater commitments to fund to finance Afghan forces.

This has currently received only about 24 million euros in contributions and another 221 million euros pledged for running costs of the Afghan security forces -- well short of the $2 billion a year that will be needed. (Editing by Charles Dick)