Members Of 18th Airborne Corps Return From Deployment
Posted May 28, 2003 11:56 a.m. EDT
POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The former commander of armed forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday that the United States should be 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 a year on duty in Afghanistan where he commanded coalition and American troops. McNeill said that progress is being made on training the new Afghanistan army, which should be self sufficient within a little over a year.
But he said American military involvement probably won't end completely.
"I believe it's in the United States' best interest to have a military-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 parts of the country.
He said that he believes that Afghanistan is more stable than it was a year ago despite a number of firefights with suspected terrorists.
"The preponderance of the country is enjoying a high degree of stability," McNeill said. "There are places in it that are dangerous 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 in Afghanistan to Maj. Gen. John R. Vines. McNeill still heads the 18th Airborne Corps, although Vines is scheduled to take over that command this summer.
About 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, McNeill flew into Pope Air Force Base, adjacent to Fort Bragg, the headquarters for the 18th Airborne Corps and the Army's Special Operations Command, on a U.S. Air Force C-17. He arrived with about 40 soldiers who were members of his headquarters unit.
After they arrived, the group formed up and marched into a pack shed where about 200 family members and area civic leaders greeted them. The 82nd Airborne Band played the national anthem.
McNeill commanded all allied forces, which includes about 11,000 U.S. troops, in Afghanistan for the past year.
He was greeted on Wednesday by Reps Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., and Robin Hayes, R-N.C., whose districts include the post. After he gave some brief remarks, he hugged his wife, Maureen, and son, Dan Jr., and he was also greeted by a new addition to the family, a beagle named Little Lily.