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Stronger U.S. role likely in Afghanistan

The Pentagon wants more control over NATO there in light of Taliban resurgence.

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Change of command: Italian Brigadier General Federico Bonato handed over a flag to US Gen. David McKiernan as French Gen. Michel Stollsteiner looked on in Kabul last week.

Rafiq Maqbool/ap

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The Pentagon will send a one-star general to Afghanistan this fall as part of a politically parlous but determined effort by the US to assume greater control in the country's troubled southern sector.

It's a small change to the complex command structure blamed for an ineffective counterinsurgency strategy that allowed the Taliban to stage a comeback.

But the deployment of the commander may pave the way for the US to slowly begin taking over the southern sector's military efforts as NATO's role there diminishes over time.

"I really think this will be a precursor of a larger American role," says one retired senior officer familiar with the move.

With his recent promotion to brigadier general, John "Mick" Nicholson likely will become a deputy commander of what's known as Regional Command South, making him the "go-to" American contact to coordinate US efforts within the snarl of US and NATO commands. The retired senior officer describes General Nicholson as "a tremendous talent." "Putting Nicholson in there is recognition that we've got to get more US engagement in the headquarters," he says.

The deployment of Nicholson and a small American staff comes after reports last week that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will approve a $17 billion funding program to increase the size of the Afghan National Army by almost 100 percent to 120,000 soldiers.

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