updated 9/28/2006 3:54:09 PM ET 2006-09-28T19:54:09

NATO decided Thursday to take control of military operations across all of Afghanistan in what U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hailed as a “bold step forward.”

As many as 12,000 additional American troops will be put under foreign battlefield command. That could be the most since World War II, U.S. officials said.

The move is expected to take place in the next few weeks, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

The largest number of U.S. troops ever under the control of foreign battlefield commanders was about 300,000 during World War I, said military officials traveling with Rumsfeld to the NATO meeting.

It was not clear how many troops were under foreign command during World War II. A U.S. officer, Gen. James L. Jones, is in charge of the overall NATO force, but the new arrangement would put the U.S. troops under foreign commanders on the battlefield.

'Thousands of weapons offered'
The ministers also agreed to provide substantial amounts of military equipment for the Afghan army.

“There were in rough numbers thousands of weapons offered up, and I believe probably millions of rounds of ammunition,” Rumsfeld told reporters.

Rumsfeld said at a press conference that some countries had stepped forward in response to appeals from NATO commanders for as many as 2,500 more troops to join the operation against the Taliban in the south. But he said more were still needed. He declined to say which countries had made offers.

NATO-led troops took command of the southern portion of Afghanistan just two months ago and have been struggling to stem the escalating violence there. This plan would extend their control to the eastern section, which U.S. troops now command.

NATO’s takeover of the eastern section had been expected later this fall, and it would switch at least 10,000 American troops from U.S. command to NATO control — specifically British Lt. Gen. David Richards. Currently about 2,000 U.S. troops are serving under NATO commanders in other portions of Afghanistan.

In opening remarks, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer indicated that commitments for troops and equipment for Afghanistan would be a main goal of the meeting.

According to a senior U.S. official, Afghanistan had compiled a list of needed equipment, from helicopters and vehicles to armor and guns, and officials will set up a program to coordinate the donations. This information was passed on to the 26 NATO defense ministers at the meeting.

Twice as many NATO troops
NATO countries recently have been slow to meet needs for more coalition forces for the alliance in Afghanistan, where violence has surged. Jones, who also heads the U.S. European Command, asked other nations this month for about 2,500 troops and other equipment, and said last week that some had come through.

Currently there are about 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan and an additional 21,000 from the United States.

Under the expected equipment deal, allies will be able to coordinate and donate supplies to the Afghan National Army. The official could not estimate how much equipment was included on Afghanistan’s wish list.

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