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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Friday that Gen. David McKiernan has been nominated to take command of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

If confirmed, McKiernan, commander of U.S. Army Europe, would replace Gen. Dan K. McNeill at a time when the NATO mission has been short of troops and equipment, and Taliban and al-Qaida militants have been operating from sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan.

About 40,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan, including 14,000 Americans. Separately, the U.S. has 12,000 troops who are carrying out a counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan.

The new job seems a logical step for McKiernan, who has both proven combat experience — as commander of the 2003 Iraq invasion force — and experience with, and an appreciation for, multinational coalitions.

“There’s a lot of synergy in joint work,” McKiernan said in a January 2006 interview. As a senior officer in Bosnia a decade before, with 34 nations doing their bit, McKiernan said, “It was high adventure. You have 34 ways of doing business.”

McKiernan’s biggest mark on U.S. Army Europe appears to have been his part in keeping it, at least for the next few years, from becoming two-thirds smaller, as was planned through a transformation drawdown.

McKiernan took command of U.S. Army Europe on Dec. 14, 2005, from Gen. B.B. Bell, who was instrumental in crafting the transformation plan that aimed to reduce the number of soldiers in Europe from some 62,000 to 24,000.

In October last year, while in Washington, D.C., for a national Army conference, McKiernan told reporters that he believed the transformation plan cut too deeply into Europe-based troops.

McKiernan said the Schweinfurt-based 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division and the Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division should not return to the U.S. as scheduled.

That would mean keeping 40,000 soldiers, nearly halting the drawdown that had begun three years earlier.

McKiernan’s opinion was shared by numerous senior commanders. In December, the Pentagon announced that the two brigades’ return to the U.S. would be delayed.

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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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