- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

NEW YORK The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved an international security force for Afghanistan yesterday, voting even as the first 53 British soldiers disembarked north of Kabul in green camouflage Arctic jackets for their new peacekeeping duties.
But bickering over the force's mandate is still not over. In the Afghan capital, the defense minister in the interim government that will take office tomorrow argued yesterday that the contingent of international troops should be small, play only a symbolic role and not use force.
The level and scope of engagement is not clearly spelled out in the council resolution, but diplomats yesterday disputed the Afghan limits on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, played down the differences, saying that the ISAF would be working with the Afghans to achieve stability.
"We're here to coordinate with the Afghans," Mr. Greenstock said yesterday.
"We've got authority to look after ourselves and to preserve the mandate, but the objective [is] to assist the interim authority in maintaining security."
Diplomats say the operation will eventually comprise up to 5,000 soldiers from a half-dozen countries. Britain will deploy roughly a third of the total strength and expects France to do the same. A combination of willing nations a dozen so far, including Italy, Canada, Spain, Turkey, Bangladesh and Malaysia will make up the rest.
The British expect to have a battalion about 1,000 soldiers and support functions on the ground before New Year's Day.
"They are here because they want to be, but their presence is as a symbol," Mohammed Fahim, the defense minister of the incoming Afghan administration, said yesterday. "The security is the responsibility of the Afghans."
Mr. Fahim, a member of the dominant Northern Alliance, said the multinational force was primarily to reassure foreign donors and arriving government ministers who feel threatened.
"When they arrive they will see the situation is OK and that [foreign protection] is not necessary," he told the Associated Press in Kabul.
As many as 165 British troops will be visible on Kabul streets by today, and they will not be dressed for combat in part out of respect for Afghans' famed sensitivity about foreign forces.
Company commander Maj. Matt Jones told reporters in Kabul yesterday that his troops would not be wearing helmets or carrying the heavy artillery common in more dangerous postings. Instead, they would be wearing berets, riding in unarmored jeeps, and carrying ordinary firearms.
"This is a peace support operation for want of a better phrase," he said. "We will not be guarding any locations. We will be providing a presence."
The ISAF is not a traditional U.N. peacekeeping mission, but it gains international legitimacy from the Security Council's blessing. Eventually, diplomats say, the multinational force will be replaced by U.N. "blue helmets" when there is genuine peace to keep.
The council resolution adopted yesterday after two weeks of discussion was left intentionally vague at the insistence of the Americans, who wanted to keep the mission as flexible as possible.
The document authorizes the ISAF "to assist the Afghan Interim Authority in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, so that the Afghan Interim Authority as well as the personnel of the United Nations can operate in a secure environment."
The resolution also explicitly holds the Afghans themselves responsible for maintaining security and enforcing laws throughout the country.
In addition, it supports "international efforts to root out terrorism" in compliance with the U.N. Charter.
The resolution authorizes the mission for six months, even though the British have said they will leave in three months, possibly turning the command over to Turkey or France.
The council document did not address the relationship between the ISAF and U.S. forces still trying to smoke out the remaining elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban.
However, a separate letter from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday effectively yields the overall command to U.S. officers in the event of a territorial conflict or a grave emergency.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Washington was satisfied with the arrangements that had been worked out.
"It is just a question of keeping the missions and the purposes of each of these forces straight, that's all, and to have a clear cut division of labor between the two sets of forces and to ensure that the peacekeeping or the international security assistance force does not in any way interfere with our efforts to continue to root out" surviving elements of al Qaeda or the Taliban.
U.S. officials have said in the last two days that American troops would not be actively taking part in the operation, but would support it with airlifts and emergency assistance, if necessary.

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