Nato moves to prop up Afghan leader

Nato agreed yesterday to expand its international peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan beyond Kabul for the first time in an attempt to bolster the authority of President Hamid Karzai.

Mr Karzai, backed by many in the United Nations, has long argued that the peacekeeping operation needs to be strengthened to help the Kabul government assert itself over regional warlords and fend off attacks by resurgent Taliban sympathisers.

Just a few days before the second anniversary of the war that overthrew the Taliban regime, Nato said it would ask the UN to amend the mandate for the International Security Assistance Force which currently operates only in and around the capital.

It was not clear how far the Nato-led force would extend its presence. Diplomats spoke of "limited temporary deployments" outside Kabul, rather than a permanent peacekeeping presence. Much will depend on how many extra troops can be deployed to reinforce the 5,300 peacekeepers in Afghanistan at present.

One British official said: "This will not mean an additional British contribution. The idea is to give ISAF more flexibility, not to cover the whole country."

Initially, at least, the move is a technical adjustment to allow Germany to take over from the United States the running of a "provincial reconstruction team" in the northern town of Kunduz.

Germany wants to operate under UN "cover" through ISAF rather than under the separate, US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which concentrates on fighting the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda network.

Reconstruction teams established in four Afghan cities are groups of 40-60 civilian and military officials, backed by a military force to protect them, and are charged with overseeing the rebuilding of a district.

Nato officials said ISAF could help to set up teams in other towns, if extra troops are forthcoming. Another duty might be to preserve calm during elections to be held next June. "The decision has been taken in principle to expand ISAF, subject to advice from military planners," said a Nato official.

"The intellectual case for extending ISAF has been accepted but there is still a debate about how to do it and how far to go. It will depend on whether countries raise the troops. We are talking about anything from a few thousand soldiers to a five-figure number."

Despite the victory against the Taliban by US-led forces and their Afghan allies, Mr Karzai's writ does not run much beyond Kabul.

Warlords hold sway in the regions while US forces continue to hunt down Taliban and al-Qa'eda fighters who have attacked coalition troops and aid workers. Even in Kabul, Mr Karzai's leadership is being challenged as his coalition debates a new constitution ahead of the elections.

Leaders of the Northern Alliance, the mainly Tajik grouping that dominates the government, are said to be seeking a replacement for Mr Karzai, a Pathan.

[Source: By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor, Daily Telegraph, 7Oct03]

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This document has been published on 23nov03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.