Pentagon chief indicates he is receptive to widening US role in Afghanistan

The idea of giving the US military more authority in areas of Afghanistan now under NATO command is "worth taking a look at," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday. Taliban resistance has stiffened in southern Afghanistan since NATO took command there in mid-2006. Some in the Pentagon believe the fight against the Taliban could be strengthened if the US, whose span of control is now limited to eastern Afghanistan, were also in charge in part or all of the south. The internal Pentagon discussions reflect concern at a lack of continuity among NATO forces and a view that, in the long run, NATO may be better off focusing mainly on areas of Afghanistan, like the north and west, where there is less fighting but a great need for non-combat aid. NATO now has overall responsibility for the mission in Afghanistan, and that would not change if a US general were put in charge in the southern sector. But it would give the Americans a greater degree of control. "I think that this is a matter that is going to get looked at over probably some period of time," he said. "It will require consultation with our allies, particularly our partners in regional command south," referring to an area of southern Afghanistan that is currently under the command of a Canadian general and is due to switch to a Dutch commander before the end of this year.