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Germany: More Work Needed In Kabul Before Security Force Arrives

Germany says several problems need to be overcome in and around Kabul before the full international security force can be deployed in Afghanistan. Its comments are based on preliminary reports made by the German members of a military fact-finding mission that went to Afghanistan at the beginning of the week.

Munich, 4 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The German military says several problems remain to be resolved in Kabul before the complete UN-mandated international security assistance force, or ISAF, can be deployed there.

In a preliminary report, the defense ministry in Berlin says there is virtually no military infrastructure in Kabul or the surrounding area available for the security force, which may eventually total 5,000 troops from up to 17 countries. All equipment will have to be flown in to Kabul.

This will require major repairs to the two airports available for the international security force. One is Kabul's international airport; the other is Bagram airbase, located about an hour to the north of the capital city.

The German defense ministry statement says: "Both airports must be repaired for unlimited use before the security force can be deployed." It says U.S. units are already working to clear both airports of mines and unexploded bombs and repave the runways which were hit in U.S. airstrikes.

The German statement is based on a preliminary report sent by the eight German officers who are part of the 25-member fact-finding mission which went to Kabul at the beginning of the week to prepare the way for an advance unit of the international security force.

Germany has offered to contribute between 700 and 1200 troops for the full international security force. They are expected to go to Afghanistan next month.

The Defense Ministry says the fact-finding mission now in Kabul is also looking at sites for possible bases for the international force. In the last few days it has examined five sites in northwest Kabul, which are near main highways. The ministry said the proximity to the highways would allow the soldiers to get in or out of its bases quickly if trouble occurs.

A spokesman for the armed forces, Karl-Henning Kroeger, says this was an important factor because the situation in and around Kabul is far from stable despite the constant surveillance of trouble spots by joint patrols of British and Afghan troops.

Several roads are considered unsafe because of bandits. Sporadic fights with remaining pockets of Al-Qaeda terrorist fighters have also been reported. Kroeger says it would be foolhardy to disregard the dangers involved with deploying an international force to the war-torn Afghan capital:

"Naturally there is a risk attached to our mission there. It would be foolish to ignore that."

The Defense Ministry says the German fact-finding team was looking not only for suitable base locations but also for suitable sites for helicopter landing pads, a field hospital and a communications center. Estimates call for three "background soldiers" -- technicians, medical staff and radio operators -- for every armed man out on patrol.

Germany lacks the military transport aircraft needed for its mission in Afghanistan. The Defense Ministry says much of its equipment would be flown out in transport aircraft supplied by Russia.

In addition to soldiers, other German experts are already involved in Afghanistan. One contribution the Germans are making involves the defusing of unexploded American cluster bombs dropped in the bombing raids. German teams are also training Afghans to handle the American munitions.

The international security assistance force has a six-month mandate to maintain peace in the Afghan capital as the country's interim administration prepares to call a council to choose a permanent government. Britain is leading the security force for the first three months of its mandate; Turkey is expected to assume control of the force after that point.