Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 5 News List

ISAF eyes wider role in Afghanistan

LAW AND ORDER Officials said that the stabilization force would not seek to control the countryside, but would attempt to create islands of stability in key cities


The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan is considering a proposal to expand operations to eight key regional cities to help stabilize the country ahead of planned elections next year, Germany's UN ambassador said.

Germany has drafted a Security Council resolution that would authorize an expansion of the 5,500-strong International Security Assistance Force known as ISAF, which is now confined to Kabul. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said last week that he expects council members to approve it.

NATO took over command of the multinational force last month from Germany and the Netherlands and will decide in the coming weeks whether to expand its operations outside of Kabul, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said Friday.

Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger on Monday gave the first indication of the expanded force that is being envisioned -- international troops being deployed to eight separate urban "islands" across the country including Herat in the west, Kandahar in the south and Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.

Diplomats at NATO headquarters in Brussels said the plans likely to be adopted by the alliance would aim to duplicate ISAF's relative success in Kabul by helping bring order to provincial cities. Officials said that NATO would not seek to control the Afghan countryside and added that the idea was to create "ISAF islands" of stability in the cities.

But Pleuger said as a second stage, once the cities are stabilized, the plan envisions linking the eight "ISAF islands" using mobile military units.

Germany, which along with Canada provides most of the 5,000 troops for the current ISAF force in Kabul, is considering sending between 230 and 450 troops to Kunduz, Pleuger said.

"Our concept is that other people also create these islands," he said. "I think they are planning for eight islands all over the country, and if that works, then create mobile ISAF units to connect the different islands in order to create the necessary stability in the country to prepare for the general elections next year."

Discussions with NATO have gone "pretty far already," Pleuger said. "As soon as things are on track in NATO, we will ask for an expansion of the mandate for ISAF in the Security Council and we are very confident that we will get it."

He said a resolution could be introduced this month -- which Germany would prefer since it must get approval from parliament for any new troop deployment.

Pleuger refused to say what countries might contribute troops to an expanded force, but he noted that the British are sending troops and the Americans, French and Russians already have military contingents in Afghanistan.

The US initially opposed any expansion of ISAF, but recently gave its support to enlarging the NATO mission, hoping more peacekeepers could ease the burden on the separate combat operation run by 11,500 US-led troops against the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan have repeatedly called for an expansion of the multinational force while an Afghan police force and national army are being trained.

Karzai warned last week that unless the world steps up its reconstruction aid and sends more troops, Islamic radicals could regain control in Afghanistan.

He said peacekeepers had to be deployed into the regions where increasing lawlessness is causing many Afghans to long for the security that marked the rule of the rigid Taliban regime.

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