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By Barry Newhouse
Islamabad
03 June 2008

The U.S. general who led allied ground forces in the invasion of Iraq has taken command of NATO troops in Afghanistan. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports General David McKiernan takes charge as commanders in Afghanistan report new progress against Taliban fighters in the south of the country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) sits next to the incoming NATO’s commander in Afghanistan U.S. Gen. David D. McKiernan during the changing command ceremony of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan, 03 Jun 2008
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) sits next to US Gen. David D. McKiernan during changing command ceremony of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, 03 Jun 2008
General McKiernan has held several senior Army posts - most recently as commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe. In 2003, he oversaw the ground assault that quickly toppled Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq.

During a handover ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday, the general took command of the 40-nation NATO coalition called ISAF that has struggled to secure Afghanistan six years after the Taliban regime was removed from power.

"I am humbled to join the ranks of the fine men and women serving ISAF and I am honored to serve alongside our Afghan hosts and brothers," he said.

General McKiernan takes command of the 50,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan from American General Dan McNeil who is retiring from the Army after 40 years of service.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told General McKiernan a primary goal is training Afghanistan's security forces.

"You will work to promote the standards of the Afghan Army further, equip them better and enable them eventually together with the rest of the international community to serve this country and to defend it eventually," said Mr. Karzai.

Afghanistan currently has about 57,000 soldiers and officials expect to have a total of 70,000 by the end of the year. Afghan officials have said they may need as many as 200,000 soldiers to secure the country.

General McKiernan takes command during a period of heightened violence, particularly in southern Afghanistan.

But on Monday, outgoing Commander General Dan McNeil told reporters that U.S. Marines recently have driven out Taliban fighters in parts of Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, and he suggested that the fighters are now fleeing toward Pakistan.

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