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Members Of 18th Airborne Corps Return From Deployment

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POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The former commander of armedforces in Afghanistan said Wednesday that the United States shouldbe able to reduce its forces in the country by the summer of 2004.

Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill returned to Pope Air Force Base after ayear on duty in Afghanistan where he commanded coalition andAmerican troops. McNeill said that progress is being made ontraining the new Afghanistan army, which should be self sufficientwithin a little over a year.

But he said American military involvement probably won't endcompletely.

"I believe it's in the United States' best interest to have amilitary-to-military relationship for some time with Afghanistan,"McNeill said.

About 4,000 Afghan soldiers have already been trained, he said,and the soldiers that are coming forward represent different partsof the country.

He said that he believes that Afghanistan is more stable than itwas a year ago despite a number of firefights with suspectedterrorists.

"The preponderance of the country is enjoying a high degree ofstability," McNeill said. "There are places in it that aredangerous to soldiers, but there are places I have seen where(relief organizations) are operating in the open and unafraid."

In a ceremony Tuesday in Bagram, McNeill turned over command inAfghanistan to Maj. Gen. John R. Vines. McNeill still heads the18th Airborne Corps, although Vines is scheduled to take over thatcommand this summer.

About 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, McNeill flew into Pope Air ForceBase, adjacent to Fort Bragg, the headquarters for the 18thAirborne Corps and the Army's Special Operations Command, on a U.S.Air Force C-17. He arrived with about 40 soldiers who were membersof his headquarters unit.

After they arrived, the group formed up and marched into a packshed where about 200 family members and area civic leaders greetedthem. The 82nd Airborne Band played the national anthem.

McNeill commanded all allied forces, which includes about 11,000U.S. troops, in Afghanistan for the past year.

He was greeted on Wednesday by Reps Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., andRobin Hayes, R-N.C., whose districts include the post. After hegave some brief remarks, he hugged his wife, Maureen, and son, DanJr., and he was also greeted by a new addition to the family, abeagle named Little Lily.

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