- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Senior European officers heading the international peacekeeping force in Kabul are expressing grave doubts about Turkey's ability to take over the force after a visit by an advance group of Turkish generals.
Although Maj. Gen. John McColl, the head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has said that he has "every confidence in a Turkish succession should it occur," other members of the force are less sanguine.
Few senior officers contacted in the United Nations peacekeeping force made up of Austrians, Italians, Germans, French, British and Swedes felt that the Turkish military officials possessed the abilities required to help restore peace in Kabul.
British troops had hoped to hand over the command of ISAF this month, but talks dragged on as the Turks expressed worry over the cost of the task. With a firm date for the hand-over still to be set, the Turkish generals were in Kabul for an initial look at the site of the headquarters.
"The Turks just haven't got it. They're in way over their heads," said a lieutenant colonel among the British peacekeepers, who declined to be named. "We've been in Northern Ireland for over 30 years and so understand the kind of balancing act necessary.
"Though the Turks are of the same religion as the Afghans, and have the largest army in NATO, they have done nothing to demonstrate that they are capable of serious diplomacy."
A sergeant major in the British forces, who declined to be identified, said: "We all saw the Turkish generals walk into the [ISAF headquarters] compound and we immediately knew they were more concerned with acting like generals than managing a hard-fought peace. Who uses enlisted men to polish Land Rovers in Kabul?"
An Austrian major was similarly critical. "I just hope that I'm gone before the Turks arrive. It will be a different world," he said.
Under British leadership, the peacekeeping force has achieved a great deal. Four months ago, the nights in Kabul were filled with the sound of small arms and mortar fire; now only a few shots pierce the silence after curfew takes effect.
More than one British soldier has cited the Turkish occupation of Cyprus and the handling of Kurdish dissent as evidence that Turkey's army, while renowned for its courage in battle, is unfit for peacekeeping duties.
Lt. Col. Richard Barron, the chief of staff to Gen. McColl, says, "ISAF has achieved great successes, and all you have to do is to walk into the center of Kabul to tell the difference."
However, keeping peace in Kabul is more an art than a science.
In retelling a story of how a night patrol of British troops was greeted with machine-gun fire before being invited for tea, Lt.-Col. Barron conceded that "a less experienced unit could have been involved in a massacre."
ISAF proudly notes that a person is six times more likely to be murdered in Washington, D.C., than in Kabul.Despite a few recent incidents, violent crime is waning, even if petty crime involving police and guards throughout the city is on the rise.
Flight Lt. Anthony Marshall described an incident in which Afghan forces guarding a roadblock "stuck Kalashnikovs in our faces demanding money, food and cigarettes and they knew we were ISAF."
Journalists leaving the ISAF headquarters and passing through the Northern Alliance perimeter are often accosted by Afghan guards demanding cigarettes and money.
Another commentary on the transition to the Turkish peacekeeping force comes from the 1st Royal Anglian Regiment an elite British corps conducting nightly patrols in the most dangerous areas on the outskirts of Kabul.
The Anglians were called up to replace the 2nd Paratrooper Battalion when it was determined that Turkish troops would not be able to replace British forces in March.
When asked what he thought of a Turkish force, Corp. Andrew "Jono" Johnson, 36, just shook his head saying, "I can't see the Turks having much success here."

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