Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Afghanistan needs more troops

EXPAND FORCE The top UN envoy in the country said increasing the number of international soldiers is necessary for the country's stability and credible elections


The top UN envoy to Afghanistan urged an expansion of the international force in Afghanistan beyond the capital, Kabul, to help provide security so the country can move ahead to credible national elections.

Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday it's time for the international community to realize that the support given to Afghanistan is "a fraction" of that given to much smaller countries, and that increasing troops would be a very good investment in the country's stability.

In a no-nonsense briefing to the UN Security Council, Brahimi warned that the lack of security is a challenge to implementing the agreement calling for elections next year.

The agreement was reached in Bonn, Germany, in December last year after a US-led force ousted the country's former Taliban rulers.

"The central challenge of Bonn is to help Afghans reconstitute the institutions that make up the state. At present, the factional control over local forces and politics makes this very difficult to achieve. This ... is a particularly important argument for the provision of international security assistance beyond Kabul," Brahimi said.

NATO took command of the 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kabul on Monday, stepping outside the bounds of Europe for the first time in its 54-year history. Brahimi said he and Secretary-General Kofi Annan would like the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, "to consider what the options are to extend security, and thus the reach of the state, beyond the capital.

"We are not asking for the 40,000 troops that were in Kosovo," he said, noting that the population of the Serb province is tiny in comparison to Afghanistan.

"If, as I feel, the council now agrees with me that this political analysis is correct, then we can decide whether we need 8,000 or 9,000 or 13,000 but it's certainly not in the scores of thousands that we're talking about," Brahimi said.

After the council meeting, US Ambassador John Negroponte said "there is the expectation that one of the issues that NATO might discuss in the weeks and months ahead is the issue of considering the possibility of the expansion of the ISAF role beyond Kabul and the environs."

Syria's UN Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe, the current council president, said members "took into consideration the points raised by Mr. Brahimi, particularly the importance of security to be extended beyond Kabul which could help ... the election process, the political institutions ... and the economy."

But Spain's UN Ambassador Inocencio Arias said he doubted there was enough support in the council for a new resolution to expand ISAF. "I don't see it," he said.

Brahimi said the UN mission can go ahead with voter registration unless increased insecurity bars the process, "but to organize credible, free and fair elections there are a lot of other things that need to be done by the Afghan government and by the international community."

He called for continued efforts to build a national army and police force and major reforms in the ministries of defense and interior as well as the country's intelligence services because all these institutions can provide a basis for stability and restore confidence in the central government's authority.

Otherwise, Brahimi warned, extremists, warlords and factions will continue to destabilize the country.

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