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Afghanistan: Annan Again Urges Expanded Security Force

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has again called for an expansion of the international security force in Afghanistan, saying continued insecurity throughout the country threatens the political-reform process. Annan also says in a new report that the Transitional Authority is having a difficult time assembling recruits for the national guard. It will be many months, he says, before homegrown units can provide adequate security.

United Nations, 18 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Citing persistent security threats in many areas of the country, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has once more urged that the international force for Afghanistan be expanded outside the Kabul area.

Annan says in a new report to the UN Security Council and General Assembly, released on 17 July, that a limited expansion of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, is vital to safeguard recovery and reconstruction efforts.

He did not specify which areas the extended deployment should cover, but expressed special concern about the situation in northern Afghanistan, where the rivalry between the Jumbesh and Jamiat factions has destabilized the region. Annan says this rivalry has prevented the United Nations and the Afghan transitional administration from establishing effective security in Mazar-i-Sharif.

In addition, he says, several provinces have become destabilized in disputes involving the central government's selection of governors.

The Security Council, which authorized the current 4,500-member security force, has resisted repeated calls by UN and Afghan officials to expand it beyond the capital. Few countries have expressed the willingness to contribute troops to an expanded force.

International efforts have focused instead on training an Afghan national army and police force. The United States and France have begun training the national army, which is expected to reach about 60,000 soldiers, as well as an air force and border-guard unit. Germany has begun training a new Afghan police force and India has agreed to join the police-training effort.

But Annan's report says the newly trained Afghan military will not be available for most of the critical transitional period of the next 18 months. He also raises new concerns about problems in assembling recruits for the first battalion of the national guard.

He says more than a third of the soldiers of the first battalion have left the unit since completing their training, mainly due to lack of support from the Ministry of Defense. He says it is crucial that a newly formed government commission work quickly to come up with a generally accepted policy on forming, housing, and deploying new homegrown forces.

Annan's special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is to brief the Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan tomorrow and is expected to reiterate concerns about security. Brahimi told a UN humanitarian panel in New York earlier this week that Afghanistan can only begin to start a phase of reconstruction and development when peace has taken hold firmly. "Peace will remain fragile for quite some time and therefore the emergency work consists in the first place in trying to prevent that country from sliding back into conflict," Brahimi said.

Brahimi told the panel that despite the gains made this year, Afghanistan is still far from ending its dependence on emergency relief. He said natural disasters like droughts and earthquakes, combined with a long civil war, require a lengthy recovery period. "Twenty-three years of systematic destruction has made the people so vulnerable, so weakened, [living at a subsistence level,] that these emergency needs are going to be there for quite some time," Brahimi said.

Annan's report says that despite the uncertain security situation, about 1.3 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan and an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons have returned home. UN officials believe an additional half million people will return to the country by the end of the year.

But the secretary-general's report says more than half the refugees have returned to Kabul and Jalalabad, rather than their places of origin. That is causing strain, he said, on basic social services like health and education.

Also surprising has been the response of Afghans to a back-to-school campaign launched by the international community in March. More than 3 million children have returned to school in that time, about twice the number expected, though in many classes there are no classrooms and few supplies.

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