BRUSSELS, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- NATO's top commander has said the alliance is planning for an expanded role in Afghanistan beyond the nation's Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.
NATO's role would merge U.N.-mandated security assistance with U.S.-led combat operations, said U.S. Gen. James Jones.
Jones, who had just returned from a two-day visit to Afghanistan, where he discussed security issues with President Hamid Karzai, said NATO is planning for the eventual takeover of those U.S.-led combat operations -- possibly within the next year, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Thursday.
Such a move could free U.S. troops in Afghanistan for deployment to Iraq. However, France and Germany have previously expressed doubts about the idea of taking over combat operations.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the issue had been discussed in recent months by defense ministers from NATO countries and would certainly be raised again when alliance defense ministers gather in Berlin in mid-September.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force this week completed the deployment of an additional 2,000 troops -- mostly from Spain, Romania and the Netherlands -- for a total of 11,000 troops who will support the upcoming elections as a backup to Afghanistan's own security forces.