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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 14:14 GMT
UK 'will lead Afghan force'
The UK is likely to lead a peacekeeping force of mainly European troops in Afghanistan, says EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
But the Ministry of Defence said no decision on who would command the force had yet been taken and none was expected until next week.
At least 10 countries including France, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Italy and Jordan, were attending the meeting in a bunker at the Ministry of Defence's crisis management centre on Friday.
The UK has already said it would be willing to lead such a force and Mr Solana's comments will fuel speculation over a British command for the troops.
Mr Solana reportedly told journalists at the EU summit in Laeken: "It will be basically be an EU force, led by one country from the EU."
His aides say the force would only come into being when a UN Security Council resolution was passed next week.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel hailed the agreement reached in Laeken on the peacekeeping force as a "turning point in the history of the European Union".
That announcement came despite the continuing talks in London, but UK Foreign Minister Peter Hain denied there was any confusion.
Break from the past
Instead, he welcomed the "rock solid" European support for the Afghan peacekeeping operation, suggesting this had not always been seen in the past.
Speaking from Laeken on BBC Radio 4's World At One programme, Mr Hain also rejected suggestions the force was the first operation for the planned European rapid reaction force.
"The European rapid reaction force through its security capability, which is being operationalised here this weekend, is not yet even walking, let along up and running," he said.
Ahead of the London talks, an MoD spokeswoman said: "They [military officials] will look at the when, where, how and what of a deployment."
She added that the force would have a "peacekeeping" role, and suggested it would also have a "robust mandate".
Other nations sending officials include the United States, she added.
A group of British army officers will leave for Afghanistan's capital city in the next few days to assess problems an international force could face.
The military experts will help the countries decide on the mission's scope and size.
The team of about 12 military officials will be led by Major-General John McColl.
The BBC's Paul Adams said delegate negotiations would continue with Afghan leaders.
The Interim defence minister Mohammed Fahim does not want a force of more than 1,000 but London believes 3-6,000 is more appropriate, he said.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday that Britain was prepared "in principle" to command any force in Afghanistan.
Speaking after talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Mr Blair said there were an "immense amount of detail to be decided and discussions to be had" before any force was put in place.