- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

The Pentagon is concerned and rightly so that the United States will agree to deploy peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan. The accord reached recently in Bonn, which forms an interim administration to rule Afghanistan, calls for the U.N. Security Council to consider authorizing a U.N.-mandated force to keep the peace. The Security Council began negotiating for a multinational peacekeeping force immediately, giving itself until only Dec. 22, the date the new interim government takes power, to deploy the force. While such a force will be vital in the coming months, the United States should not be pressured by a superficial deadline to assist in a goal that it didn't support in the first place.

From the very beginning of U.S. military action in Afghanistan, President Bush made clear that America's war is a fight against terrorists not an exercise in nation-building. That is not to say that the interim government crafted in Bonn and headed by Afghanistan's former deputy foreign minister, Hamid Karzai, won't have its security challenges. Though Mr. Karzai negotiated the deal with the Taliban to give up Kandahar in exchange for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's amnesty, leaving the Taliban virtually defunct, Afghanistan's problems still run deep. Regional tensions, ethnic divisions and decades of instability have left virtually no infrastructure for the new government, which will rule for six months. But the United States must be very cautious before committing U.S. forces to any extensive peacekeeping operation.

Kabul has yet to be demilitarized, and neighbors such as Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia have their own strategic interests in Afghanistan that conflict with U.S. interests. Also, key Afghan warlords rejected the Bonn deal, leaving the interim government in a precarious position. So, keeping American soldiers in Afghanistan during phase two might prove to be a serious mistake.

Proposals to let Turkey lead a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan should be supported. Turkey the lone Muslim nation in NATO indicated its willingness to Secretary of State Colin Powell during his recent visit. U.N. officials said the Security Council could sign off on a deployment within days of a specific proposal by the countries contributing to the force. Britain, Germany, Jordan, Egypt, France and Canada are being considered, among others.

Mr. Bush said he wants to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan as the nation begins to rebuild itself. This is a vital part of America's mission. But the war on terrorism, as he rightly said, is far from over, and our military resources can best be used to bring terrorists to justice. Fortunately, America's allies, having offered their assistance and their resources, are standing ready for peacekeeping operations.

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