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EU nations unite for Afghan force

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- All 15 European Union countries have agreed to take part in the United Nations' plan for a Afghanistan peacekeeping force, Belgian ministers say.

The unprecedented move -- described as a "turning point" in the history of the EU -- was announced at the EU summit in Belgium. It will be the first time the EU has taken part as a bloc in this kind of military force.

Belgium Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the number of EU troops in the force would number between 3,000 and 4,000.

The discussion over Afghanistan at the summit came separately from talks on plans for an EU rapid reaction force to be set up and officials made clear the two issues were very different.

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"There is a very important EU initiative taken for the first time in a crisis intervention, the European Union is going to create unanimously a multinational force," Michel told a news conference.

"All member states will be present, I think this is of capital importance for Europe's security and defence policy. I think you can say it's a turning point in the history of the European Union."

A number of EU countries -- including the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Italy -- had been expected to play a role in the U.N. "stabilisation" force in Afghanistan.

But CNN's European political editor Robin Oakley said the decision by all 15 EU nations to join the force came as a surprise and that their involvement in the U.N. force will be much greater than had been expected.

He said: "They have seized an opportunity and set a precedent to have all 15 countries involved in this force."

Oakley said the plan would need to be approved by the U.N. and that troops from EU nations taking part would probably report to a UK-led headquarters near the Afghan capital of Kabul.

He said there was no specific timetable for the proposal, but added that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he believed U.N. approval was expected within days.

Oakley said some countries, notably Britain, were stressing it would not be an EU force as such, but part of the U.N. effort.

Countries outside the EU such as Turkey and Canada have said they too are prepared to join the stabilisation force and military chiefs will now discuss how troops will be deployed.

Oakley also said some EU countries will provide support such as field hospitals and technical assistance rather than troops.

He said the EU troops under a U.N. mandate would have to co-ordinate with the U.S.-led operation to track down suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Solana said: "This force is not there to make war, it is there to insure stability."

A small British reconnaissance party, headed by Maj. Gen. John McColl, is to fly to Kabul this weekend to assess the mission, the UK Ministry of Defence said.

British U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock has said a small force could get to the capital, Kabul, by the time the Afghan interim government takes power on December 22.

But some officials at the summit told Reuters the involvement of EU countries could not be regarded as an EU-initiative.

"Even if we wanted to, we could not do it as we are not as far as we need to be with the (defence) structures," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters. "This is an issue that will be handled in the (U.N.) Security Council."

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called Michel's statement "a slip of the tongue" while Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said it was still not clear who would participate in a U.N. force

The plan for the EU troops to go to Afghanistan was announced as leaders prepared to consider a broad range of issues from international terrorism to the European single currency at the summit, which is being held amid tight security at a royal palace in the Brussels suburb of Laeken.


• Afghan power-sharing deal agreed
December 4, 2001
• Afghan talks: Deal on peacekeepers
November 29, 2001
• Mixed signals on Afghan force plan
November 29, 2001

• EU Laeken Summit
• European Union
• United Nations

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