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Military revisits Afghanistan plan

A key component is likely to be more troops, but the strategy must go beyond that, experts say.

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Pentagon officials are considering significant changes to the command structure in the NATO-led mission. In the coming weeks, the US four-star general who leads the NATO command, Gen. David McKiernan, will probably be given a new command relationship with US Central Command in Florida. The aim is to give a more cohesive, if not American, influence on the mission.

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"With everything that we face, I think that has to happen. It's going to streamline," says one senior military officer who didn't want his name used because he was commenting on an active proposal.

And in a sign that the United States is still pushing for more control of the troubled southern sector of the country, where the fight against the Taliban and other "anticoalition militias" is the most violent, the US is considering installing a new deputy commander to work under the NATO commanders there to help focus efforts. These and other proposed changes to the command structure would help "clean up the spaghetti sandwich," as one retired officer put it.

As part of mounting a proper counterinsurgency strategy, analysts and military commanders are also calling for a more coordinated approach – one in which combat action complements reconstruction and aid.

Many American officials, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, have also called for a bigger Afghan Army to help offset the impact the enemy has had.

Still, in the end, more troops will be necessary in Afghanistan, military experts and analysts say. The first of those three brigades, possibly amounting to more than 10,000 troops, could be deployed by the end of this year, defense officials say.

But the senior military officer says no decision on troops will probably be made until October, when Gen. David Petraeus, now the top commander in Iraq, will make a final assessment, before leaving that post, about the number of troops necessary for Iraq. That assessment will largely determine what size force can be deployed to Afghanistan, where there are now about 63,000 troops – about half American.

When General Petraeus becomes head of US Central Command this fall, he will add Afghanistan to his portfolio of responsibilities. Many had feared that the Afghanistan mission could suffer under Petraeus in his new role since he might favor the Iraq mission, for which he was chief architect. But he has already begun to ponder what can be done in Afghanistan, sources say.

"Petraeus is absolutely thinking hard about Afghanistan," says an officer who is knowledgeable about Petraeus's thinking but didn't want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue. "It would be criminal if he wasn't. They're both his baby now."