“We are looking at options and ways that we can streamline the command-and-control arrangements for U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
The proposed change, he said, is viewed as a method to make management of U.S. forces in Afghanistan “more efficient and effective.”
“This is not a finished action; this is not a done deal by any means,” Whitman emphasized.
Senior defense officials are consulting with U.S. allies in Afghanistan, notably members of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, he said.
McKiernan commands ISAF, which consists of about 45,000 troops, including around 15,000 U.S. troops. Another 19,000 or so U.S. troops are assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, which is part of Operation Enduring Freedom and commanded by Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser. Regional Security Command East, which handles security and reconstruction duties in eastern Afghanistan, falls under Schloesser’s purview.
The mission of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, commanded by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, is to partner with the Afghan government and the international community to train Afghan security forces.
ISAF is engaged in combating Taliban and al-Qaida extremists and performing reconstruction projects in the southern and southeastern parts of Afghanistan.
If adopted, the change would refine the U.S. command structure in Afghanistan, Whitman said.
McKiernan would assume the title of commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Whitman said, with the four-star general commanding both ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom.
However, “although it would be one commander in charge of both missions, the missions would not be blended in any way,” Whitman emphasized. “So, you’d have the ISAF mission, and you’d have the OEF mission, and they’d remain separate and distinct.”
Whitman said the proposed command change would improve the synchronization of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, allow the U.S. commander control of all U.S. military assets in the country, and help ensure he is deploying them to the maximum operational benefit.
For example, about 2,200 U.S. servicemembers assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit now report to ISAF, while the 1,000 or so Marines assigned to the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan report to U.S. Central Command.
“So, you’ve got U.S. forces that are not all under the command of a single U.S. officer in Afghanistan,” Whitman noted.