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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August, 2005, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Italian unit leads Kabul force
By Andrew North
BBC News, Kabul

British Isaf soldiers in Kabul
Plans are under way for Isaf to move outside its Kabul base
A new Italian unit has taken command of the Nato-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan at a ceremony in the capital, Kabul.

For the past six months, Turkey has led the 8,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) - set up after the fall of the Taleban in late 2001.

More than 30 nations contribute troops to the force, which was placed under the control of Nato in August 2003.

Afghan parliamentary polls take place in six weeks amid major security fears.


More than 30 nations contribute troops to the force, which was placed under the control of Nato in August 2003.

Command of the international peacekeeping force changes every six months.

This time it is being taken over by one of five rapid reaction units in Nato.

Most of its troops are Italian, including the commander. But his deputy is British and no stranger to Afghanistan.

He is Maj Gen Roger Lane, who led a Royal Marine force sent here in 2002 to hunt remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taleban - a mission that ended controversially, with his troops barely seeing any action.

Concentrated in Kabul

This time, the key task is safeguarding September's parliamentary and provincial elections.

Maj Gen Roger Lane
The new force's deputy, Roger Lane: no stranger to Afghanistan

Extra troops are on their way to help, with Nato promising to boost the strength of the force to 10,000 by polling day.

The main threat still comes from al-Qaeda and the Taleban - who have been blamed for an upsurge in violence this year that has claimed hundreds of lives.

In fact, most of these deaths have occurred in the south and eastern border areas - controlled by the separate 19,000-strong US-led coalition force.

Isaf is still largely concentrated in Kabul, with smaller units in northern and western areas where security has been less of a problem.

But plans are underway for Nato to move gradually into some of the more difficult areas.

The US military is keen to see this happen, in the hope it can start withdrawing its own troops.

The irony of this gradual expansion though, is that this is what many Afghans wanted straight after the fall of the Taleban.

But the US was opposed then. In effect, the peacekeeping force is playing catch-up.

The problem is it is now far harder to get Nato countries to provide necessary forces.

The extra troops they are sending for the polls will return home afterwards.

Yet security still remains the number-one concern for most Afghans.

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