The UN Security Council has authorized a multinational force for Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, in time for the swearing in on 22 December of the country's new interim government. The Security Council mandate is limited, and diplomats stress the force will work in coordination with Afghan authorities. But the international troops have the right to use force, and the council resolution authorizing them also calls for the withdrawal of all military units from Kabul.
United Nations, 21 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved what it calls an "international security assistance force" to help the new Afghan interim authority maintain order in the capital district of Kabul.
The council voted on 20 December to mandate a force for six months to operate in and around Kabul while the interim government prepares the way for a Loya Jirga that will elect a transitional administration.
The international force will not serve under a blue-helmet, United Nations command. It will be led by Britain, which is planning to deploy more than 200 soldiers around Kabul by 22 December. Some 50 British Royal Marines have already arrived at Bagram air base north of the capital.
Britain's ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, stressed that the multinational force will work with the Afghan authorities to maintain security: "We hope that the combination of Afghans and the international community will provide some new hope for what has been a pretty miserable life for Afghans over the last few years."
The council resolution authorizing the international troops says they will be allowed to use force when necessary. That was a key condition agreed to on 19 December by the interim government in a letter to the council from its minister of foreign affairs, Abdullah Abdullah.
The resolution does not refer to the size of the multinational force or specific duties. The force could reach up to 5,000 troops and is expected to guard government buildings.
Ambassador Greenstock told reporters that issues such as these are not difficult to handle and can be worked out in arrangements with the Afghans. Like other senior British officials, Greenstock stressed that Afghans will have ultimate authority over their security.
"The obligation to provide security throughout Afghanistan starts with the Afghan authorities. They have to work together," Greenstock said. "They have got to take the responsibility not just to meet security for their own reasons and in their own terms but also to meet international human rights and humanitarian law in doing so."
Afghanistan's interim defense minister, Mohammad Fahim, told AP yesterday that 3,000 international troops will be deployed in Afghanistan but that only 1,000 of them will have a peacekeeping role. He said the UN-authorized force will be largely symbolic. He also said international peacekeepers will have no authority to disarm fighters or use force.
Another potentially controversial part of the Security Council resolution calls on all Afghan parties to honor their pledge made in Bonn to withdraw military units from Kabul, in cooperation with the international force.
Aside from Britain, the countries expected to contribute to the international force are mainly NATO members, including France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Canada. The German government says it wants a clear separation between the security force and the U.S. military campaign targeting terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
U.S. and British officials agreed before the Security Council vote that the U.S. military will be in charge of overall coordination between the two forces. The U.S. forces will also help rescue the international force in the event of an emergency.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte told reporters yesterday that Washington wanted to make sure its forces are free to pursue suspected terrorist groups still in Afghanistan.
"It's just a question of keeping the missions of each of these forces straight and to have a clear-cut division of labor between the two sets of forces and to ensure that the peacekeeping -- or the international security assistance force -- does not in any way interfere with our efforts to continue to root out the Al-Qaeda and to fight against any remnant Taliban elements that might exist anywhere in Afghanistan," Negroponte said.
Outside of Kabul there are still concerns about lawlessness, especially in places such as the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where a suspected terrorist explosion in a market yesterday injured some 100 people. But any involvement of an international force would require separate authorization by the UN Security Council.
The head of the World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, told a news conference yesterday that sporadic lawlessness and a drop-off in the number of non-governmental organizations assisting the UN pose a problem for food distribution.
"Banditry still exists, and there are still areas where no one wants to work because it is deemed unsafe. Certainly people locally have the best sense of that," Bertini said.
But Bertini was also hopeful about efforts to provide food to an estimated 6 million people in need this winter. Most of the main land corridors into the country are now open, she said, and a growing number of areas threatened by famine are stabilizing.
She said in the country's central highlands, for example, thousands of tons of food have been stored to meet the needs of nearly 1 million people this winter. There will continue to be hardship caused by the country's multiple problems, Bertini said, but not on the mass scale that aid agencies had been dreading.
"There are many vulnerable people, and we can expect that the combination of not enough food for a long time, [no] variety of food, poverty, war, drought, and cold is going to make for victims and fatalities," Bertini said. "But I do believe that enough food has gone in and been distributed in the country that we will not see widespread famine."
Bertini did not comment directly on the Security Council resolution authorizing a stabilizing force for Kabul only. She said if humanitarian aid is blocked by security problems, she does not believe it is her agency's role to ask for military assistance.
Basic security for any area of the country, she said, should be determined by a central authority.