US-led forces to pull out of western Afghanistan: commander
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US-led forces to pull out of western Afghanistan: commander

AFP | March 14, 2005

The US-led military will pull out its troops from western Afghanistan this summer and move them to the restive south and east to tackle Taliban militants, a US commander said Monday.

NATO-led peacekeepers who arrived early this month will then take over the American operations in the west, said Colonel Phillip Bookert, commander of coalition forces in western Afghanistan.

"I think I'm handing over a very stable situation," the colonel told reporters in Kabul, adding that the new locations for the US troops had not yet been decided.

Washington has strongly pressed for the 8,300-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to expand into Afghanistan's remote and rugged west in a bid to reduce pressure on stretched American forces in Iraq and worldwide.

An initial deployment of Italian troops started to arrive on March 2 in the main western city of Herat, where they will later be joined by soldiers from Spain, Greece and Lithuania.

Bookert's 2,400-strong force, which includes soldiers from Afghanistan's new national army, will hand over of reconstruction teams working in the provinces of Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis. All except Ghor border Iran in the west.

One team, in Farah province, will remain under the control of US forces, the colonel said.

The US-dominated coalition has more than 18,000 soldiers who are hunting down Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants since it toppled the ultra-Islamic regime at the end of 2001.

ISAF has been deployed in Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate for the same period of time, but only came under full NATO command in 2003.

Until now its troops have been deployed in the Afghan capital Kabul and the north of the country. In February NATO defence ministers agreed at a meeting in Nice, France, to move its rebuilding efforts into the west.

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