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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 11:56 GMT
Q&A: Afghan peacekeeping force
BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds answers some of the key questions about the multinational peacekeeping force being deployed in Afghanistan.

What is the force?

It is called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It will be under a UN mandate but the soldiers will not wear blue berets. It will be under British command for three months, after which Britain will hand over to someone else. Who that might be has not been decided.

Who will be in ISAF?

It will be between 3500 and 5000 strong. Britain will send up to 1500 troops; Germany has offered the same number; France has offered 800; Spain 700.

Twenty-one nations in all have attended a contributors' conference in London, indicating the wide range of countries interested in taking part. Turkey, Jordan and Malaysia could provide a Muslim-orientated element.

The final composition has not been agreed, though. The Americans will not take part on the ground, but will provide essential logistical support, such as air transport. The Americans will also be on hand to help out in case the force gets into trouble, for example in extracting troops in danger.

What will its role be?

The formal role is to assist the new interim government. It will operate in Kabul and surrounding area. Its main function will be to provide confidence that new political institutions can be set up and an end put to the rule of the warlords.

It will guard buildings and roads and patrol streets, but in agreement with the new government. A further role will be to help train new Afghan security forces.

What will its powers be?

It will not be an intervention force but it will be allowed to defend itself and will be empowered to do that under what is known as Chapter V11 of the UN Charter, which permits force to be used. The rules of engagement will be robust. That means they can fire back.

When will it go in?

The idea is to get a token force in by 22 December when the new interim government takes office. Britain has some soldiers at Bagram airport already. Another company of Royal Marines is going in from a ship in the region immediately. However, because of the technical and diplomatic complexities, the main body of troops will not be in for some weeks.

Will the Americans be in ultimate control?

Day to day command of ISAF will be with the British commander, Major General John McColl. However, if there is a situation in which there might be a conflict of interest between the American forces still in combat and the UN peacekeeping force, then the Americans will have the final say through Central Command, the Florida based command structure which has run the war itself.

The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says that such a chain of command is essential to avoid any confusion. The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, says it will avoid "friendly fire" incidents.

The idea is that ISAF should not be seen as a war fighting element ( the Germans and French were very keen for this perception to be avoided) but that the Americans retain the freedom to conduct operations if they consider them necessary.

What has held up its agreement?

On the military side, getting agreement with so many countries makes for a complex business. Getting agreement with the Northern Alliance, soon to take part in the new government, has not been straightforward. Some elements of the alliance had to be persuaded about the need for the force at all and its size.

Diplomatically, there have been problems between the contributing forces. Germany, for example, insisted that ISAF not be mixed up with the American war fighting forces under Operation Enduring Freedom.

The British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon has offered an assurance that the roles of the forces would be "distinct." France also wanted distance between the American fighting troops and the international peacekeeping troops. All this has had to be negotiated in a UN mandate. It has taken time.

What are the risks?

There are risks in sending any force into Afghanistan, given its history. The key to this lies in maintaining co-operation with the interim government and in suppressing any opposition from Taleban remnants. If the environment remains benign, then the problem should be acceptable. This is, however, not guaranteed obviously, but contributors feel it is a risk worth taking in order to help establish proper government in Afghanistan which will be to everyone's benefit.


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17 Dec 01 | South Asia
17 Dec 01 | Politics
16 Dec 01 | South Asia
14 Dec 01 | UK
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
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