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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Brig. Gen. Pavel Macko said he and others at NATO’s headquarters here had eagerly sought a meaningful mission. Now they’re getting their wish.

More than half of the core staff of Allied Land Component Command Headquarters Heidelberg is heading off to Afghanistan for a six-month deployment in Kabul to fill core battle staff positions in NATO’s efforts there.

“We were really looking for a mission,” Macko said last week in his office before beginning what will be first Afghanistan deployment. “To keep the spirit of a headquarters, you want to be part of something important. Not just to be the land operations expert for NATO but also to execute it.”

Among the 200 troops and civilians going — primarily officers and senior noncommissioned officers destined to staff slots at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters — are roughly 35 U.S. soldiers assigned to the Heidelberg NATO headquarters.

Macko, assigned to Heidelberg NATO headquarters for the past three years from Slovakia, is the highest-ranking officer from the unit to be on this deployment. Unlike the first time the headquarters unit deployed to Afghanistan — in 2003, when the group was in command of ISAF — this time, the troops are filling slots in the command.

“I don’t want to call them individual replacements but that’s kind of what they are,” said U.S. Maj. Mike Indovina, a command spokesman. He said they’d be filling slots in intelligence, operations, signal and staff positions as a Polish contingent moves out.

Macko said the alliance’s effort was focused on reconstruction, security support and training local Afghanistan forces.

“Unfortunately, what’s most visible is kinetic operations but it’s not the major part of operations,” he said.

The group is going at an uncertain time in what’s now a six-year effort by U.S. and NATO forces to rout the Taliban, capture or kill Osama bin Laden and curtail al-Qaida, and help the impoverished country move toward a more stable and democratic society.

NATO’s involvement was originally peacekeeping. But southern and eastern Afghanistan, with a huge narcotics trade and a porous border with Pakistan thought to harbor bin Laden and terrorist training camps, have remained violent.

Macko said he believed NATO was making progress.

“You will not provide stability unless you walk in. You can’t do it from the table,” Macko said. “What I believe and all my soldiers believe is that (we want to help provide) a normal life for them. That is, you are not afraid in the morning when you wake up. Your children can go to school. That’s normal. It takes time.”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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