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Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 05:56 GMT
The challenge of Afghan peacekeeping
US troops
The US wants its troops to concentrate on fighting
By the BBC's Mike Donkin in New York

The deadline is tight if a planned multi-national peacekeeping force is to be up and running in Kabul when the new Afghan interim administration takes office there on 22 December.

And much has still to be resolved about how it will be made up and who will lead it.


There is little doubt that the mandate will have to be renewed more than once

The United Nations wants at least part of the force to be in place from day one because, Secretary General Kofi Annan says, this is the "best guarantee" of a peaceful transition in the wake of the West's war against terror.

The UN Security Council has already agreed the broad tasks the force will be asked to carry out.

It will be asked first to secure the capital, then spread out from there to Afghanistan's other main cities.

Then the idea is for the troops to assist aid organisations bring relief to the people and start the far longer job of reconstructing the shattered country.

Leadership question

However, the troops on the ground - several thousand, it is estimated - will not be wearing blue UN helmets. They will come from the so-called "coalition of the willing" who have offered units.

UK Parachute regiment
Nations fully signed up are Britain, Germany, Canada and Bangladesh, although others like France, Turkey and Jordan look like joining in.

Talks are already under way to decide who will lead the force. Then that nation will work out exactly how to establish order from the Afghan chaos.

Britain is reckoned to be best placed both because of its military commitment to the region and the fact that when the international units arrive, American troops will still be on the ground carrying out more hostile operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda.

The US and British governments have worked hand in glove since 11 September.

Renewable mandate

The international force will only be sent for six months initially. The UN is keen that the assorted Afghan factions brought together to fight the war against the Taleban should be kept together to ensure peace, and so does not want to endorse an open-ended stay.

There is little doubt, however, that the mandate will have to be renewed more than once.

Afghanistan's victorious Northern Alliance has said it could perfectly well pick up the reins of power without any outside troops to guarantee stability.

The alliance's UN Ambassador, Ravan Farhadi, points to the way anti-Taleban factions have held firm in the past weeks of fighting. He is also, however, a realist.

"We did not request this force but we will co-operate with it fully," he says.

Dangers

Mr Farhadi belives that Kabul will be relatively easy to secure. He admits to more doubts over the future stability of cities like Kandahar, where there has been much wider support for the Taleban, and over the vital and vulnerable highways which wind their way through more remote areas.

The West's military campaign may have been carried through at a heady pace, but everyone who knows Afghanistan well would counsel against that leading to any surge of confidence about the next stage.

The job the international force faces will be complex and dangerous.

What the Afghan people need is lasting stability. Good intentions and a few thousand peacekeepers may not be enough to ensure this.

Too many weapons have been held for too long, in too many hands.

See also:

16 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bringing stability to Afghanistan
28 Nov 01 | South Asia
Alliance opposes multi-national force
27 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian troops set for Afghanistan
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