US, Britain Asking Turkey to Oversee Security In Afghanistan


By By Elizabeth Neuffer

Boston Globe
March 14, 2002

With just weeks remaining before Britain is due to relinquish the helm of an international security force in Afghanistan, no country has committed to take over the troops' command, diplomats and UN officials say.

American and British officials have been courting Turkey, which has agreed in principle to take the job. But the Muslim nation has set conditions for accepting the task, including guarantees of Western financial assistance and assurances of American military help.

Turkey's concerns, which senior American officials say they will try to address during high-level talks in Ankara today, have been echoed by other countries. At a time when Washington is perceived to be threatening military action against Iraq, American allies are concerned they may end up policing a fractious Afghanistan by themselves. "What the US is prepared or not prepared to do in Afghanistan in the security and military sense has quite a lot of impact on what other governments are prepared to do," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters yesterday.

UN officials say security is key to Afghanistan's reconstruction, and it is crucial to helping the country's interim government gain control over its quarrelsome warlords, who have been driven by two decades of civil war.

But peace is also vital to the country's infrastructure and economy. Foreign donors who have pledged billions to rebuild the ravaged nation would be unlikely to follow through with those funds if fighting was to break out again in Afghanistan.

The future of the multinational International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, is paramount at the United Nations, the lead agency charged with overseeing Afghanistan's rebirth.

The question of who will assume ISAF's command, UN officials and diplomats said, is one of many concerns.

The force, which operates with a UN mandate but is not under its command, was created with a six-month mission to help provide security to Afghanistan until a national police and army are established. The 5,000-member force, composed largely of British and German troops, is restricted to the Afghan capital of Kabul.

But it has become increasingly clear that uniting Afghanistan's feuding factions into one national force will take much longer than six months. Professional military training is practically nonexistent.

Afghan fighters have kept their guns and have increasingly turned to crime, the UN's undersecretary for political affairs, Kieran Prendergast, told the UN Security Council yesterday.

One key issue is whether the force's mandate will be extended before it expires in June. Annan said the extension would be "likely." A second issue is the need to expand the force beyond the capital to the provinces.

Afghanistan's interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, has repeatedly called for additional foreign troops to help maintain law and order. Annan last month lobbied both Washington and European officials on the need for more foreign troops to be posted to cities other than Kabul.

America has no troops in the force, but it does provide logistical support - vital if the troops came under attack by rogue Al Qaeda elements. Top American officials - including US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, the commander of the US military operation in Afghanistan - remain opposed to involving US troops in the peacekeeping mission.

Washington instead prefers to train what will be a 50,000-man strong Afghan army. And increasingly, the Bush Administration appears to be turning its military sights elsewhere. As Washington contemplates taking action against Iraq, some allies are concerned that the Pentagon's military resources will not be available to aid ISAF.

"The conundrum here is that the Americans want to head for the exit, but they also want to protect their investment in Afghanistan," said one senior UN official, familiar with negotiations over ISAF's future. "The best way to do that is to have a strong ISAF. But people won't stay to do that without a continuing US presence in the vicinity, for air cover and for rapid extraction."

Britain is to relinquish its command of ISAF in the middle of April, and Turkey remains the only leading candidate to assume it. However, Turkey still has outstanding concerns, said its ambassador to Washington, Faruk Logoglu.

"Obtaining security in Afghanistan is not easy," Logoglu said in a telephone interview from Washington. "There are a number of issues that need to be clarified."

To assume command of the force, Logoglu said, Turkey wants assurances about future US military support and information about who will contribute troops to the ISAF force.

Afghanistan's interim government says it would welcome Turkey's leadership if it were to command the ISAF force. Turkish officers used to help train the Afghan military - a relationship that could prove important if ISAF plays a lead role in training a new Afghan army.

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