United Nations, 27 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United States and France have expressed their opposition to the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan beyond the capital, Kabul.
Envoys for both countries told the UN Security Council yesterday that conditions are not right for the increased deployment of the 4,700-member force. The U.S. and France are both permanent members of the council, which authorized the deployment of the force -- known as ISAF -- after an interim political arrangement for Afghanistan was agreed in Bonn in December.
The deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, said during an open council meeting on Afghanistan that the efforts already under way in the country are responsive to the country's security needs.
"Given the present security situation and the range and variety of assistance already available or under way, we do not currently see the need to expand ISAF's areas of activities beyond Kabul and its immediate environs."
Cunningham said U.S. Special Forces and civil affairs teams are working to help local Afghan commanders deal with what he called "contentious issues." He said that collaboration is having positive results.
France's UN ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, said the principal contributors to ISAF -- primarily European members of NATO -- are opposed to an expansion to other areas of the country. Both Levitte and Cunningham stressed the importance of training the Afghan army and police force, although such training is expected to take a number of months. Germany has also expressed skepticism about extending the territory covered by the force.
UN officials and authorities in the Afghan interim government have repeatedly asked for an expansion of ISAF. UN officials, in particular, are worried about violence and intimidation marring the preparations for the Loya Jirga, an assembly of Afghan elders, scheduled for June. That assembly is to appoint a temporary government and draft a constitution before elections set for 18 months later.
Some officials have estimated that an additional 35,000 troops would be needed to secure Afghanistan's major cities, including Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Herat.
The international security force, though endorsed by the Security Council, is a so-called "coalition of the willing" that finances and organizes itself. The U.S. military -- while still active in parts of Afghanistan -- does not have forces in ISAF but has pledged air cover in case of emergency.
Pakistan's UN ambassador, Shamshad Ahmad, urged the council to consider the expanded deployment of ISAF to major urban centers. He said without the security provided by this force, there can be no peace, stability, humanitarian relief, or reconstruction of Afghanistan.
"ISAF, in the absence of a proper Afghan security force, is the only option we have at the moment, and restricting it only to Kabul will, in effect, defeat the very purpose for which it was established."
Despite the U.S. and French statements, discussions among troop-contributing officials are said to be ongoing. The current president of the Security Council, Norwegian Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby, told reporters outside the council chamber that it is not clear whether the issue of expanding ISAF is settled.
"I don't know if this was the last word that was spoken on the issue today, but this is, as you know, a very difficult issue. But my understanding is that consultations are still going on on that very issue."
There is no dispute about the extension of the force another six months when its current mandate expires in June. Britain is the current leader of the force and would like to transfer command to Turkey sometime this spring. Turkey has yet to resolve how it will finance a leadership role in ISAF, however.