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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 19:31 GMT
Europe readies for Afghan troop commitment
French President Jacques Chirac (left) with US Secretary of State Colin Powell  in Paris
France has promised its support
Several leading EU countries have voiced their readiness to commit troops to an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

We must reach agreement within the EU on our future commitment in Afghanistan

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder

France and Germany both voiced a desire to contribute while Britain suggested earlier that it could play a leading role in the operation.

The exact form and command of the force have yet to be decided but its purpose is to maintain security and ensure humanitarian operations succeed.

Germany said that any involvement of EU states in the mission should be approved at the its next summit.

UN backing

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his country was ready to join in "in a European framework and on the basis of a clear mandate from the UN Security Council".

He stressed that European participation should be outlined at the forthcoming EU summit in Laeken.

"To us it is obvious that we must reach agreement within the EU on our future commitment in Afghanistan," he said.

"I am sure that the Laeken summit will reach such agreement."

France for its part was "ready to participate in the international security force anticipated by the agreements made in Bonn", a statement from President Jacques Chirac's office said.

The statement noted that the force would have to have UN Security Council backing.

Italy is also expected to commit troops while, outside the EU, Turkey, Canada and Jordan are equally tipped to join the mission.

Britain's 'lead' role

On Tuesday, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said his country was willing "in principle" to play a leading role in establishing a peacekeeping force for Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair with US Secretary of State Colin Powell  in London
Britain has been involved in Afghanistan from the outset

Speaking after talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Mr Blair said decisions on the deployment of a force would have to be made "relatively quickly".

There were, he added, an "immense amount of detail to be decided and discussions to be had" before any force was put in place.

The formation of a peacekeeping force has been delayed because of a desire by the US military to maintain overall control.

Britain and Germany have insisted that unless the US contributes troops, it cannot lead the force.

Foreign governments have yet to decide how many troops they plan to deploy in Afghanistan.

The media reports have spoken that up to 5,000 troops may be sent to Afghanistan.

Leaders of various factions within Afghanistan agreed in Bonn to the deployment of a peacekeeping force.

However, Afghanistan's interim defence minister said that such a force should be confined to 1,000 troops with a very limited role.

The BBC's David Shukman
"This will be a hazardous step"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"We've indictated, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role"
See also:

12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pitfalls of peacekeeping
12 Dec 01 | Americas
Ashcroft moves to reassure Europe
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