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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 15:41 GMT
UK extends lead of Afghan force
Straw would bet on Turkey taking peacekeeping lead
The UK will continue as lead nation in the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan beyond next month, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said.

Turkey had been expected to take over in April, but that has been thrown into doubt.

In the long march of history this is a limited operation

Jack Straw
Mr Straw insisted that he did not expect British troops to remain in the country for "very long."

But shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said the announcement showed the government had lost control of the timetable in Afghanistan.

"By mid-April, Britain will have over 6,000 troops on the ground. That is more than America has there now," Mr Jenkin said.

"We simply don't have the forces to sustain a commitment indefinitely without very substantial extra resources."

Economic problems

British troops have been patrolling the streets of the Afghan capital, Kabul, since December, as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Last Monday, the government announced that 1,700 Royal Marine commandos were being deployed to help the US tackle the remaining al-Qaeda and Taleban forces.

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Straw said he could not be absolutely certain Turkey would be willing to take over the role.

Turkey's reluctance is blamed on economic problems.

"We said we'd be there for a matter of months, as a lead authority it's going to be extended for a little while, but again in the long march of history this is a limited operation," Mr Straw said.

Asked whether he thought Turkey would take over, Mr Straw said: "If you are asking me would I put money on them doing it, yes I would. Am I absolutely certain they will until they've as it were signed on the dotted line? No."

British commandos

However, the foreign secretary was able to give assurances that the British commandos, who were sent to Afghanistan this weekend to track down al-Qaeda fighters, will not remain in the country "for very long".

Mr Straw said the troops would remain in Afghanistan until the network's capacity to carry out atrocities like 11 September was eliminated.

Afghanistan would turn into another Sierra Leone rather than another Vietnam, Mr Straw added.

"You cannot say for certain how long it's going to last, let's be clear about that.

"But my judgment is that it is much more likely to be like Sierra Leone than ever it is Vietnam."

He added: "I don't think that our troops are going to be there, the combat troops, for very long."

See also:

24 Mar 02 | Scotland
Salmond queries Afghan operation
18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Operation Anaconda 'over'
14 Nov 01 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Kabul mission extension 'possible'
18 Mar 02 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
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