GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Joint Multinational Training Command chief Brig. Gen. David R. Hogg says relationships he’s built with NATO troops in Germany should serve him well in his new job overseeing multinational operations in Afghanistan.

Hogg leaves JMTC later this month to become the International Security Assistance Force deputy chief of staff for operations, taking over from Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker in a role that involves some of the most important aspects of the Army’s new strategy in the troubled nation.

The job involves communicating with the Afghan Defense Ministry over policy and "building capacity and capabilities and growing Afghan security forces," he said in an interview this week.

According to The Associated Press, the U.S. and Afghan governments agreed last year to increase personnel in the Afghan National Army from an earlier target of 80,000 men to 134,000.

While at JMTC for just over two years, Hogg has interacted with personnel from many of the nations whose troops he’ll work with down range. Soldiers from all over Europe train alongside U.S. forces there.

"We have really made headway in the last two years on the international side," he said of JMTC’s work with foreign troops.

"About 87 percent of the 42 nations contributing forces to Afghanistan come from the EUCOM (European Command) area of responsibility," he added.

For example, U.S. troops based in Germany have trained in Romania and Bulgaria as part of Joint Task Force East in recent years with the rotation scheduled again for this summer, he said.

"It’s all about relationships. It’s about understanding partners who you will be working and fighting with ... understanding how NATO works because we deal a lot with different NATO missions here as well," he said of his role at JMTC.

Hogg said he expected to work with foreign soldiers in Afghanistan whom he’s met during training events in Germany or on trips throughout Europe as JMTC chief.

His arrival in Afghanistan coincides with the replacement of U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander Gen. David McKiernan with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the establishment of a new three-star post in Kabul, designed to help with military operations, to be filled by Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez.

It also coincides with an influx of U.S. forces in the south of the country. President Barack Obama has ordered that the U.S. military double its current commitment of 38,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Hogg said it will be interesting to gauge the reaction of the Afghan people and enemy forces to the troop surge. The Taliban could become more active as the American presence increases, he said.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has said that he expects a tough fight from the Taliban this summer.

"We are going to make progress, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better," The Associated Press quoted Petraeus as saying recently.

The troop increase in Afghanistan must be accompanied by an understanding of cultural differences between Afghanistan and Iraq, but with a similar approach of establishing a presence out in the communities, Petraeus said.

Hogg, who has hosted Afghan troops and officials during training at Hohenfels, echoed Petraeus’ emphasis on local culture, something troops focus on during JMTC training.

The stocky, blue-eyed commander, who cited James A. Michener’s 1963 novel "Caravans" as a useful guide to the region’s culture, has been to Afghanistan three times.

As JMTC chief, he has made two trips to visit troops from 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. The unit, which plays the "Op For" (opposing force) during training for other units at Hohenfels, has rotated its companies into Zabul as part of a Romanian-led task force for three years.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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