KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. general who led American ground troops into Iraq in 2003 took command yesterday of the 40-nation NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan took charge of the 51,000-member International Security Assistance Force from Gen. Dan McNeill, who will retire from the U.S. Army after 40 years.

Addressing a change of command ceremony yesterday, McKiernan said that he was "honored to walk alongside our Afghan brothers."

"While today marks a transition in commanders, the mission must continue without missing a beat," he said, listing security, reconstruction and development as the types of support that Afghanistan deserves. "Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who stand in the way of that mission will be dealt with."

In the latest violence, three ISAF soldiers were killed in attacks, including two in eastern Afghanistan, where most of the forces are American. About 15 others - insurgents and Afghan police - also died in violence.

McKiernan, whose previous assignment was as commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, inherits the largest ISAF force since the international military partnership was created in 2001, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for hosting al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

He takes command during a period of heightened violence and a spiraling opium, poppy and heroin trade in Afghanistan. More than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks in the country last year, the most since the 2001 invasion.

Around the country, three ISAF soldiers, three policemen, a private security guard and at least 10 Taliban were killed in Afghanistan's latest violence.

_ Two ISAF soldiers were killed while on patrol in the east. NATO did not release any additional information. Most soldiers in the east are American. One soldier was also wounded.

_ A third ISAF soldier died in the south from wounds suffered from a battle. NATO released no other information.

_ A Canadian army captain was killed when his platoon was ambushed in southern Afghanistan yesterday, officials said. It wasn't immediately clear if the soldier was among the three ISAF forces who died. *