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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 17:59 GMT
Q&A: Afghan peacekeeping force

The international community is working on the make-up and mandate for a peacekeeping force to be deployed in Afghanistan. The BBC's Paul Reynolds answers some of the key questions about the force.

When will the peacekeeping force be deployed?

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons on Monday that 1,000-1,500 British troops would take part in the force.

He hoped the first elements would be there by 22 December. That is the day when the new interim government takes over, as agreed in Bonn.

The symbolism of getting at least a token force in is obviously important. It would signal international support for the new government and give more physical confidence to those taking part.

But because time is so short, only about 100 soldiers are likely to get there in time.

There are some British Royal Marines standing by on a ship in the region and Britain could fly in a headquarters unit at very short notice. The main body of the force would follow later.

But first, detailed decisions have to be taken about the force's role and about which countries will take part.

Who will be in the force?

Britain will take part. Other countries invited to a special meeting in London last Friday were the United States, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Malaysia and Turkey.

The Americans are unlikely to contribute ground troops, but their logistical strengths might well be called on. They could also provide back-up if something goes wrong, such as medical evacuation or air support.

The main elements of the force are likely to be from western Europe, with troops from countries with Islamic populations like Turkey and Jordan sent to provide greater political balance.

Why is Britain leading the force?

Britain is likely to be in the lead because it has the experience of conducting peacekeeping operations.

The United States is reluctant these days to use its troops in a peacekeeping role, and, in any case, are still fighting the war.

Given that the Americans do not want to be in on the ground, the British are the next obvious candidates - and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to be heavily involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

How many are going?

The US Defence Secretary says that 3,500 to 5,000 troops will be needed, though the Northern Alliance Defence Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim says that only 1,000 are necessary.

A figure somewhere between the two might emerge. There needs to be enough soldiers to provide a critical mass and to be strong enough to deter any opposition without being an occupying force.

The former Nato commander Wesley Clarke says the number will have to be quite high to be effective.

Will they be welcomed?

The peacekeepers will be welcomed when they arrive, but the question is whether they will be welcome if they stay. Peacekeeping forces have a habit of becoming unpopular.

The timetable for the force is an important part of the discussions going on at the UN about its mandate. For the moment, though, reports from Afghanistan indicate that a war-weary population wants an international force and that the military leaders will accept one, however reluctantly.

Where will they be deployed?

Initially in Kabul, but the idea is that they should also be in the other major cities. The French, for example, will probably go to Mazar-e-Sharif, where they already have a detachment.

What exactly will they do?

One of the biggest issues under discussion is whether the force will have powers to intervene in inter-factional fighting, if there is any, or whether its role should simply be to provide a presence.

The outcome of these talks will help determine the size of the force. The more active the force, the bigger it will have to be.

There is also the issue of its armaments - should the peacekeepers be equipped with armoured personnel carriers? These would provide more protection but they would also have the look of occupation and interference.

The mandate of the force has yet to be clearly determined, which means it is also unclear how long it will be there. Peacekeeping forces have a habit of remaining in place for years, but Tony Blair says the thinking at the moment is that the force would be there for some months only.

See also:

17 Dec 01 | South Asia
US expects Afghan peace force soon
17 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair to outline Afghan strategy
16 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghans told of US war aims
14 Dec 01 | UK
UK talks on Afghan troops
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pitfalls of peacekeeping
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