NEW YORK The United States is not prepared to endorse a U.N. call for a multinational security force to police the Afghan capital Kabul while the world body works with Afghan groups to set up an interim government, U.S. officials said yesterday.
U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council that the force, expected to be from mainly Muslim countries, should be formed to support the creation “as early as humanly possible” of a temporary administration drawn from the country’s various ethnic groups.
Britain last night circulated a draft U.N. resolution saying the United Nations “should play a central role in supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to establish urgently” a broad-based, multiethnic transitional government.
But a senior State Department official and other sources said the United States “has never been hot on” using U.N. forces to deal with the volatile, proud and warlike Afghans.
The Bush administration would prefer to see an all-Afghan security force replace the Taliban, whose troops were being driven yesterday toward their last redoubt in the southern city of Kandahar.
The United States is also reluctant to see U.N. member nations or officials do more in Afghanistan than reinforce the sense of security, prevent human rights violations and distribute humanitarian relief.
“We are asking two questions: Do we need some international role in an interim administration, and [do we need] some role in an interim security arrangement,” said the senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Those are not yet decided by the administration or the international community. The chief thrust is to get the Afghans to organize themselves as soon as possible into a broad-based government.”
President Bush voiced solid support for the Northern Alliance at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, rejecting suggestions its forces had massacred Taliban troops and defending their decision to enter Kabul after promising they would not.
“First of all, we’re making great progress in our objective, and that is to tighten the net and eventually bring al Qaeda to justice, and at the same time deal with a government that’s been harboring them,” he said. Al Qaeda is the terror network headed by Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Bush said the alliance, made up mainly from the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic groups of the north, “must recognize that a future government must include representatives from all of Afghanistan,” especially the largest ethnic group, the Pashtun.
He also said the Northern Alliance had promised it had “no intention of occupying Kabul,” and had sent forces inside the city only because “on their way out of town, the Taliban was wreaking havoc on the citizenry of Kabul.”
In Kabul, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah issued an invitation for all ethnic, tribal and regional groups except the Taliban to meet urgently to form an interim administration.
“We invite all Afghan groups to participate, to come to Kabul and to start negotiations and to speed up the negotiations about the future of Afghanistan,” he said. “We have also invited the United Nations to send their teams into Kabul in order to help us in the peace process.”
Under Mr. Brahimi’s proposal, the United Nations would organize a multiethnic government, possibly headed by the exiled king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, to serve for two years.
During that period, a “loya jirga,” or grand council of prominent Afghans, would draw up a constitution.
A second gathering would approve it and create a permanent Afghan government.
Mr. Brahimi ruled out a traditional U.N. peacekeeping operation to maintain order in the meantime, saying it would take months to organize.
His preferred option, an all-Afghan force, would also be difficult to set up quickly.
He suggested instead a volunteer force to be quickly assembled from willing, mainly Muslim countries, much as was done in East Timor in 1999.
The State Department official acknowledged there had been discussion among U.S. and other diplomats at the United Nations of assembling “a coalition of the willing” from countries such as Turkey, Bangladesh, Jordan and Indonesia.
However, a source said the administration was cool to the idea, and especially reluctant to see a troop presence in Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan, whose President Pervez Musharraf yesterday offered such a role.
“It is very important that there ought to be a United Nations force composed of OIC countries,” Mr. Musharraf said, referring to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which groups Muslim nations. “Turkey could play a role and also other Muslim countries, and maybe also Pakistan.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he wants Mr. Brahimi’s deputy to travel to Kabul soon, and that the United Nations is eager to try to get its staff back into the country to deliver humanitarian aid.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon that he remained more concerned with pursuing bin Laden and his supporters.
“First priority is unquestionably tracking down the leadership in al Qaeda and Taliban,” he said. “I would say the second priority is destroying the Taliban and al Qaeda’s military capability, which is what props up that leadership, and tracking it down, finding it, and destroying it.
“Third to create a presence that is professional and will be stabilizing in those cities. And fourth begin the kinds of humanitarian assistance that these people are clearly going to need.”
Joseph Curl contributed to this report in Washington.