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Norway backs new Afghan command

Norwegian Defense Minister Grete Faremo said she had “great understanding” for US President Barack Obama’s decision to fire General Stanley McChrystal as head of the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Norwegian diplomat who formerly headed the UN’s operation in Afghanistan, though, said he was “surprised” by the choice for McChrystal’s replacement.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Defense Minister Grete Faremo (just behind Stoltenberg) visited Norwegian troops in Afghanistan on the 17th of May, Norway's Constitution Day. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Norway has long had troops of its own in Afghanistan, part of NATO’s efforts to defeat the Taliban insurgents and stabilize the war-torn country. Norway has provided special forces in Afghanistan, soldiers and officers who are trying to help build up Afghanistan’s own defense force, and troops involved with other stabilization and humanitarian efforts.

Faremo told reporters in Oslo that she was taking the firing of McChrystal under advisement, and understood Obama’s decision to replace him after McChrystal made several unflattering remarks about the US administration in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. McChrystal didn’t hide his frustration with his civilian bosses in the White House, especially with the US vice president, Joe Biden.

Faremo noted, though, that the change in command in Afghanistan involved “a person, and not the strategy that all the NATO countries have agreed to carry out in Afghanistan.” 

American General David Petraeus will take over McChrystal’s duties, and US politicians on both sides of the political spectrum applauded Obama’s choice, saying Petraeus has the experience and leadership needed to guide the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who until recently was the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, was surprised, however.

“He (Petraeus) is an experienced general from his service in Iraq,” Eide told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. “But I hope that this doesn’t mean the experience in Iraq will form the foundation for what will be done in Afghanistan.”

Eide noted that Petraeus was behind the military build-up in Iraq and thinks “there already has been a tendency to copy the experience in Iraq too much. These are two different countries and two different conflicts.”

Norway, as a member of NATO, currently has around 500 soldiers in Afghanistan and pressure has been building at home to withdraw them. Norwegian politicians have remained loyal to their NATO obligations but have repeatedly resisted calls by NATO to contribute more troops.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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