- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United Nations — already forced out of Iraq by suicide bombers — fears rising violence will force it to abandon its two-year effort to stabilize Afghanistan, the top U.N. official here warned yesterday.

Lakhdar Brahimi said his team could not continue its work in this war-ravaged nation unless security improves. He called for more foreign troops to help halt attacks that have killed at least 11 aid workers across the south and east since March.

“Countries that are committed to supporting Afghanistan cannot kid themselves and cannot go on expecting us to work in unacceptable security conditions,” Mr. Brahimi said.

“They seem to think that our presence is important here. Well, if they do, they have got to make sure that the conditions for us to be here are there,” he said. “If not, we will go away.”

NATO, which commands a 5,500-member peacekeeping force in the capital, Kabul, has agreed in principle to expand into the provinces. But nations have been slow to come forward with pledges of troops and equipment.

In addition to the peacekeepers, a U.S.-led force of some 11,700 soldiers are still pursuing Taliban remnants, followers of al Qaeda and fighters loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, responding to Mr. Brahimi’s comments, said the Bush administration hopes the United Nations remains in Afghanistan.

“Our military and those working with us there as well in the coalition efforts have done an outstanding job to improve the security situation,” Mr. McClellan said.

“The U.N. has an important role to play in the efforts going on there — they have been playing an important role and we hope they will continue to.”

German and Canadian troops now make up the bulk of the NATO peacekeeping force.

Mr. Brahimi said Turkey was considering sending more soldiers. “We hear that the Turks are thinking about sending more troops and that’s very welcome.”

But he emerged empty-handed from a meeting yesterday with the French defense minister.

The minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, “tells me she is not against the principle of expansion, but nobody is coming in with resources, with soldiers and they, France, are committed elsewhere,” Mr. Brahimi said.

NATO’s expansion outside Kabul is shaping into teams that would provide security to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in the provinces. The Germans have agreed to spearhead a team in the north, in Kunduz, and the United States is leading several others throughout the country, particularly in the troubled south.

But the United Nations views the teams as no substitute for an expanded security force.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested this month that NATO could take over all military operations in the country — including combat missions now run by the U.S.-led force.

The United Nations pulled its foreign staff out of vast areas of the country in October after the death of Bettina Goislard, a 29-year-old French refugee worker slain in the eastern city of Ghazni. It also suspended some operations in regions bordering Pakistan, where Taliban militants and their allies have been most active.

The pullback followed a similar drawdown in Iraq, where an August truck bomb that killed 23 persons at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad sparked the withdrawal of international U.N. staff.

U.N. calls for international troops to fan out across Afghanistan’s troubled provinces got louder after Miss Goislard became the first international U.N. worker killed here since the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001.

This month, the U.S.-led force launched a big, new operation across the south and east. But the operation, dubbed Avalanche, has been overshadowed by the deaths of 15 children in two U.S. military raids on suspected militants.

Mr. Brahimi urged the U.S. military to take more care to avoid such tragedies, as well as drop some of its most questionable allies, a reference to anti-Taliban warlords viewed by many Afghans as corrupt and dangerous.

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