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KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — When the transfer of authority to NATO forces takes place Monday, U.S. troops operating in southern Afghanistan should barely even notice it.

“Our real hope is that it doesn’t affect them at all,” said British Col. Chris Vernon, chief of staff for Task Force Aegis, the multinational command for southern Afghanistan.

“Most of them have already been briefed by their commanders, and most of the impact will be felt at a higher level than the average soldier. But in terms of how they continue to do their daily business, that will not change.”

From a political standpoint, the change from U.S. to NATO control is a significant one. The mission in this country’s south will shift from Operation Enduring Freedom, and its anti-insurgency focus, to the International Security Assistance Force’s broader peacekeeping and development plan.

But Vernon said that won’t mean less work for U.S. or coalition troops fighting in southern provinces.

“We’re still facing a high-intensity counterinsurgency, and that will continue after this (handover),” he said. “One of our focuses in this was to ensure those troops can operate in exactly the same way.”

NATO spokesman Canadian Maj. Scott Lundy said apart from a single, NATO-controlled command structure in the south, U.S. troops will likely notice more ISAF logos on vehicles and more international soldiers around the airfield.

Canadian, British, Australian and Romanian soldiers are already in southern Afghanistan, but the coalition will see an increase in the number of Dutch, Estonian and Danish troops in the coming weeks.

The total NATO force in the south is expected to hover around 9,000 troops, nearly three times what the coalition has in the south this time last year. Vernon said that will mean more of a security presence for villages in the south, which have seen increased fighting since the start of Operation Mountain Thrust.

Of that 9,000, about 2,700 will be American troops, according to U.S. officials. That includes Task Force Nighthawk, which will continue to provide airlift capabilities for coalition operations in the region.

U.S. troops said they’re not expecting too much turmoil from the change in command.

“They’ve told us to expect business as usual, not too much of a change for the common soldier,” said Cpl. Robert Lesser, a soldier from the 219th area support group and noncommissioned officer in charge of the airfield motorpool.

After the transfer, only the eastern region of Afghanistan will remain under U.S. control. That also is scheduled to move over to NATO control by the end of the year.


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