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Annan seeks more foreign troops

Annan and Bush
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. President George W. Bush meet in the Oval Office of the White House  

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his top envoys stepped up lobbying in the White House and elsewhere this week on expanding the foreign troop presence in Afghanistan.

In a meeting with President Bush in Washington, Annan emphasized that the current British-led force had a six-month mandate, but that it would take at least 18

months for a post-Taliban Afghanistan to form a credible army and police force that could keep order, U.N. sources said Friday.

Bush, according to U.N. and U.S. diplomats, was sympathetic but said the U.S. Central Command under Gen. Tommy Franks, conducting the war in Afghanistan, would have the final say.

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Franks so far has been reluctant to agree to the force spreading out beyond Kabul.

"But we have been working on the issue as we have interests in keeping Afghanistan secure since Mr. Karzai pushed it," a U.S. official said. Hamid Karzai, the interim Afghan leader, first lobbied Bush during a visit to Washington last month.

The U.S. military is still trying to root out remnants of the Taliban and the al Qaeda network, held responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters appear to be regrouping in the south, where their military opponents have little sway.

Role beyond Kabul

Lakhdar Brahimi, Annan's chief representative in Afghanistan, held meetings in New York this week with key nations, including Britain, France and Germany, on the need to

expand the security troops to other areas.

Despite the international rush to offer financial and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, the push for extending the peacekeeping role is being treated warily by many countries.

Most are short of troops and are cautious of being drawn into warlord rivalries that have marked the country's recent history and are escalating again.

According to participants in meetings with Brahimi, no country made any further commitments about whether or how to field peacekeepers in other centers besides Kabul, the capital, where some 3,000 soldiers are now stationed.

Some nations have floated the idea of 7,000 extra troops -- 1,000 in seven centers. Others have said international troops should fan out with Afghan soldiers.

But Brahimi, the participants said, has declined to name any figures, saying he was not a military expert and that he did not expect every town and hamlet to be guarded. But he said even some warlords wanted the foreign troops.

U.S. not contributing

Britain now heads the 15-nation peacekeeping force, with most troops from NATO countries. Britain will relinquish its command in mid-April, when Turkey is expected to take over.

Although Britain, France and Germany are considering leaving some of their troops in Afghanistan longer than April, the long-term vacuum still remains.

As for Turkey, diplomats say Ankara wants assurances of financial help as well as U.S. air cover.

The United States has no intention of contributing soldiers to the force, known as the International Security Assistance Force, which is expected to reach 5,000 soldiers.

The operation, with a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, is not under U.N. command, which means each contingent, rather than all U.N. members, pays for its respective troops.


• Fragile peace after Taliban fall
February 11, 2002



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