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Saturday, 29 December, 2001, 21:42 GMT
Marines patrol streets of Kabul
Marines walked shoulder to shoulder with armed police
Marines walked shoulder to shoulder with armed police
British soldiers have been patrolling the streets of Kabul for the first time - alongside Afghan police.

Fifteen Royal Marines from 40 Commando accompanied nine armed police officers from the Afghan Interior Ministry around the Zarnagar Park.

"This is the first multinational security operation," said Lieutenant Colonel Richard Spencer, as the patrol moved down a street lined with carpet sellers.

"It is all about reassurance and presence."


We are happy to cooperate with the foreign troops because they are helping to bring calm and peace to our country

Afghan police officer

Colonel Spencer said they had been asked to patrol the area near a central bazaar to deter petty crime.

He added that the patrol, which included three interpreters, had been delayed by 90 minutes because of communication problems.

But Andy Butler, from 40 Commando, said the reaction had been "very positive".

And an Afghan police officer told BBC News: "We are happy to co-operate with the foreign troops because they are helping to bring calm and peace to our country."


It would be better for them to be outside Kabul or cooperating with internal forces in disarming civilians

Northern Alliance soldier, Mir Alam

But some of the bemused onlookers said troops should focus on disarming a nation awash with weapons after 23 years of war.

Northern Alliance soldier, Mir Alam, 35, said: "It would be better for them to be outside Kabul or cooperating with internal forces in disarming civilians."

"We do not really need soldiers patrolling the streets because it is not that unsafe now - but they are needed along the highways and in the provinces."

Joint patrols are expected to become a regular feature for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).


We are not concerned about a delay if it means getting everything right

Ministry of Defence

The 6,000-strong force will be commanded by British Major General John McColl for at least three months and its initial task is to assist in maintaining security in Kabul and surrounding areas.

But talks are still going on with the interim government to draw up a formal agreement on the exact duties of the peacekeeping force.

British negotiators insist good progress is being made - but it is taking longer than they had expected.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "General McColl is making sure that all the parties in Afghanistan understand what the remit of the new force is likely to be.

"We are not concerned about a delay if it means getting everything right."

International presence

The ISAF was authorised by the UN Security Council during last month's Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan.

There are 500 British personnel already on the ground in Kabul, and the total UK contribution is expected to be about 1,500 troops drawn from HQ 3 (UK) Division, 16 Air Assault Brigade and 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.

A spearhead of around 200 UK troops - including Royal Marines of 40 Commando - has been in Kabul for the last week.

They provided an international presence at the 22 December inauguration of Hamid Karzai's interim government.

On Wednesday they were joined by a further 300 headquarters personnel and "enablers" with orders to prepare Kabul's international airport, Bagram, for the arrival of the main bulk of the force.

They are currently repairing landing strips damaged by US bombing and ensuring that all necessary support facilities are in place for the ISAF.

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