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White House adviser on Afghanistan nominated as new US envoy to NATO

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 24, 2013

STUTTGART, Germany — Retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who for the past six years has served as a White House adviser on Afghanistan, was nominated by President Barack Obama on Thursday to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to NATO.

If confirmed, Lute will replace current ambassador Ivo Daalder at the Brussels post, where the focus in the coming year will likely be on crafting drawdown plans in Afghanistan.

Daalder’s departure after a four-year stint as ambassador comes just weeks after the parting of Adm. James Stavridis, the soon-to-retire former NATO supreme allied commander. The two men and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took over as commander of the international force in Afghanistan, were appointed at roughly the same time by the incoming Obama administration to conduct the NATO-led war.

During Daalder and Stavridis’ tenure, the U.S. surged into Afghanistan as part of an effort by the Obama administration to refocus efforts on the neglected “good war,” which critics say was under-resourced as a result of the military campaign in Iraq. While the U.S. boosted its troop presence in Afghanistan, U.S. officials also urged its European allies in NATO to bump up their troop contributions, getting mixed results in the process.

Now, as NATO shifts from a combat mission to one focused on training Afghan forces to provide for their own security, the question will be whether NATO’s security gains can hold in the years ahead. For Lute, and new SACEUR Gen. Philip Breedlove, the focus will be on pushing ahead with security transition plans while still maintaining enough of a troop presence to keep the training mission on course.

If confirmed, Lute also will serve at a time of instability in other areas of strategic concern for NATO. Chief among them is the ongoing civil war in Syria, where concerns over chemical weapons stockpiles, the growing presence of foreign fighters in the conflict and a widespread humanitarian crisis, threatens to destabilize the region.

Lute, who retired from the Army in 2010, brings more than 30 years of military experience to his new diplomatic post. Last year, Lute was even rumored to be under consideration by Obama for the position of SACEUR, which would have required the unusual step of a return to active duty.

Meanwhile, Daalder will take up a new position later this summer as president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a nonpartisan group focused on international affairs.

Vandiver.john@stripes.com

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