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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 12:44 GMT
UK team lobbies for Afghan force
Kabul street
Kabul will be the focus of the peacekeeping operation
A British-led military team has arrived in Kabul to urge Afghanistan's new administration to accept a substantial international peacekeeping presence.

The party, led by Major General John McColl, includes representatives from various countries including France, Canada and Italy.

General McColl said on Sunday he hoped to "ensure a meeting of minds" with representatives of the future interim government on the issue.

It's an immensely complicated task and I do not underestimate the level of difficulty

Major General John McColl

He stressed that no decisions had as yet been made on the suggested force, which would be in Afghanistan under a UN mandate.

"I'm here to assess and discuss the size, composition and role of the force," he said.

"We will also be looking at the practicalities of such a mission - the timelines and logistics.

"It's an immensely complicated task and I do not underestimate the level of difficulty in such a deployment by air over such long distances."

Clash over numbers

General McColl added he had been "very encouraged" by what he had seen on his first day in the "peaceful" Afghan capital Kabul, and was looking forward to his meetings.

Abdullah Abdullah
Abdullah Abdullah: Views may be at odds with UK

Defence Minister General Mohammed Fahim has said that no more than 1,000 peacekeepers were needed, and that they would merely provide security for the new administration.

But some Western countries have argued that about 8,000 troops will be necessary to maintain stability in and around Kabul, as the new interim government takes power on 22 December.

Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah has said he accepted the need for a multi-national peacekeeping contingent - but with restrictions on its ability to use force.

He wants the force deployed on the basis of Chapter Six of the UN Charter, which does not explicitly allow the use of force.

It is thought the UK and several others want the deployment to be covered by Chapter Seven, which allows the use of force to deal with threats to peace and acts of aggression.

Details not decided

The UN is still discussing the mechanics of setting up the force, and has not yet issued a resolution authorising its deployment. That is expected this week.

The force is being set up under the terms of the Bonn agreement between Afghan factions, which created a new post-Taleban political set-up for the country.

Britain has indicated it is prepared to lead such a force if asked, but will not make an official announcement until the team's return from its reconnaissance mission - expected on Wednesday.

Speaking in the Brussels suburb of Laeken, where he was attending the final session of a two-day EU summit, Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Saturday there were still "many, many details" of the proposed force to be finalised.

"But there is huge agreement here that we need such a force," he added.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Ordinary Afghans are keen for the force to arrive"
See also:

15 Dec 01 | South Asia
Limits urged on Kabul force
14 Dec 01 | UK Politics
UK 'will lead Afghan force'
14 Dec 01 | Europe
EU pledges troops for Afghanistan
14 Dec 01 | UK
UK talks on Afghan troops
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