U.N. Renews Afghanistan Force

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi hold their hands during a rally in Azadi street in Tehran, June 15, 2009. (AP Photo) AP Photo

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to keep an international force in Kabul, Afghanistan, for another six months but rejected calls to send troops to regions beyond the capital.

A U.S.-sponsored resolution extended the life of the International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, for six months beginning on June 20, by which time Turkey is expected to take over the command from Britain of the 4,650 troops that guard the Afghan capital and its fledgling government.

The resolution says "the situation in Afghanistan still constitutes a threat to international peace and security." But it stressed that "responsibility for providing security and law and order throughout the country resides with the Afghans themselves."

After initially asking for the force to be restricted to Kabul, Afghanistan's interim government led by Hamid Karzai urged the council to expand the force throughout the country, saying it would signal a global commitment to a country brutalized by 23 years of war and neglect. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan backed the request.

However, the Bush administration rejected such an expansion while it is ferreting out remnants of the al Qaeda network, held responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States.

Other participants in the mission have done the same, pointing instead to the need for a national Afghan military.

The 19-nation force is not under U.N. control or management. But the 15-nation Security Council has to authorize it so the troops, mainly from NATO countries, have international legitimacy.

As Afghanistan struggles for stability, Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's interim government is in charge of Kabul but has little control in many provincial areas dominated by a variety of militia.

Britain says its military is stretched, considering its commitments in the Balkans. And Turkey accepted command of the force on condition the force not be expanded.

Kieran Prendergast, the U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, warned the council before the vote that security, particularly in the east and south of the country, "remains a major concern" and that creating a new Afghan security force would take time.

"We cannot expect a sustained reconstruction process to be launched in Afghanistan without real improvements in security outside Kabul and its environs," he said.

Afghanistan wants about $300 million for the national army and air force, expected to be about 80,000 troops for the first year as well as a border guard service and some 70,000 police. The United Nations also says $80 million is needed to demobilize some 200,000 fighters.

The United States and other countries are helping to create an Afghan military. U.S. special forces began training the first of a series of 600-strong Afghan battalions last week and hope to have some 2,000 to 3,000 Afghans armed and on duty in six months.

French soldiers will train the next 600-member group, while Germany is the mainstay of training police, many of whom now go without pay for months. Britain is helping to eradicate the country's drug trade, one of the largest in the region.

The United States is in charge of training the army and has promised about $70 million under a bill making its way through Congress. France has volunteered to help with training. Italy is leading efforts to reconstruct the legal and judicial system. Japan and the United Nations will help in the program to demobilize fighters and provide funds.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Williamson said the United States and its coalition partners, who are fighting remnants of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network and Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, believe "efforts to address the security imperatives beyond Kabul have been successful to date."

"We continue to envision potential security concerns outside of Kabul being addressed as necessary by coalition and Operation Enduring Freedom forces," he told the council.
  • Lloyd Vries

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