BRUNSSUM, Netherlands — German Gen. Hans-Lothar Domröse assumed command of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum Friday in a ceremony that drew two of America’s top military officers and representatives from all 28 alliance nations.
The command is getting ready to hand over responsibility as NATO’s response force to its sister command in Naples, Italy, but will continue serving as the higher headquarters for the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.
That mission is commanded by American Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who flew from Afghanistan for the ceremony.
The change of command was presided over by the man Allen was earlier named to replace as the next supreme allied commander Europe, U.S. Adm. James G. Stavridis. Allen’s nomination to that post is on hold pending the outcome of an investigation that has already led to the downfall of Allen’s predecessor in Afghanistan, now-retired Gen. David Petraeus.
None of that was brought up at Friday’s ceremony, which seemed like a going-away party for Domröse’s predecessor, German Gen. Wolf Langheld.
In remarks during the handover, Stavridis praised Langheld, who commanded JFC Brunssum for more than two years, with responsibility for NATO’s Baltic air policing mission and building relationships with non-NATO nations in northern Europe.
His biggest job, though, Stavridis said, was overseeing the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan during a period that included both the U.S. surge and subsequently a major reduction in ground troops in Afghanistan.
Stavridis noted that during Langheld’s tenure, civilian casualties in Afghanistan declined 60 percent, while Afghan forces have built up to nearly their planned end-strength of just over 350,000.
“We all consider that our job in the end is to protect the people of Afghanistan; I know he is particularly proud of that,” Stavridis said.
The command was Langheld’s last, capping a 42-year career he started as a conscript in a German armored brigade in 1971.
“You can imagine when you set out on a military career … you cannot realistically plot the course to a four-star general,” Langheld said. “Thus, this humble infantry officer, which is the Army’s equivalent for a simple sailor as you all know, finds himself in a position where his success has exceeded his expectations.”
Domröse did not speak during the ceremony, which took place under cloudy skies outside the JFC International Conference Center near the command’s headquarters. But Domröse, who served a year as chief of staff of NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, appeared to listen intently as Stavridis laid out his expectations for the new commander.
“I’d like you to continue the terrific work of Wolf in Afghanistan as job one, and I know John Allen is applauding that behind me,” Stavridis said as Allen watched from a seat in the audience.
Stavridis also charged Domröse with thinking about how NATO’s response force can be used in Afghanistan after the end of combat operations in 2014 and with expanding the alliance’s partnerships with non-NATO nations in northern Europe.
“I think there’s money to be made focusing on regional connection up here,” Stavridis said.