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Afghanistan: Karzai Urges Larger International Force

Marking a change in positions, Afghanistan interim administration head Hamid Karzai is asking the UN Security Council to provide a much larger security force to maintain stability throughout his country. Afghan authorities originally asked the Security Council to limit the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Kabul area, and the Council has given no sign it will expand the force. But it has signaled its concern over lawlessness in Afghanistan and pledged "unqualified support" for the Karzai administration's efforts to rebuild the country.

United Nations, 31 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has asked the United Nations Security Council to expand the mandate of the ISAF beyond Kabul to help stabilize the country.

Karzai, in the U.S. on his first official visit, told the Council yesterday that the presence of UN-authorized forces in other major cities will signal the ongoing commitment of the international community to secure peace in Afghanistan. Karzai said the Afghan people have signaled their desire for security, first and foremost, after decades of devastating conflict.

"Security is the foundation for peace, stability, and economic reconstruction. I have personally spoken to hundreds of delegates from different parts of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "All of them have strongly expressed that security is the key issue."

The ISAF, which was authorized by the Security Council in December, now numbers more than 2,000 soldiers with that number expected to rise to 4,500 in February. The Council had limited its mandate to Kabul and surrounding areas, based on the request of Afghan authorities, but Karzai now says there is common support for a broader mission.

As Karzai was speaking in New York, fighting broke out in the Afghan town of Gardez, the capital of the Paktia province south of Kabul. Reuters news agency cited a local official as saying that 300 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters are gathering nearby for what he said was an imminent attack on Gardez. News agencies reported that the fighting continued overnight.

Council members did not address the request for an expanded force right away but issued a statement saying they were ready to "extend the necessary assistance" to the people of Afghanistan.

The statement was read by Foreign Minister Anil Kumarsingh Gayan of Mauritius, which holds the current presidency of the Council. He said Afghanistan's people face one of the most imposing and challenging tasks of any people in the world at this moment and will enjoy the backing of the global community if they remain committed to reconstruction, reconciliation, and rehabilitation.

"In all its decisions, the Security Council has stressed the point that it is for the people of Afghanistan themselves to freely determine their own future," Gayan said. "The Security Council will continue to support all efforts based on the Bonn agreement, leading to the formation of a government in Afghanistan that should be broad-based, multi-ethnic and fully representative of all the Afghan people."

The Council also welcomed some of the initial steps of the Karzai government, such as moving to ban the cultivation of opium poppies and asserting the rights of women in society.

After addressing the Council, Karzai made an emotional visit to the site in New York where the World Trade Center towers stood before they were struck by terrorists in hijacked passenger jets. Karzai spoke of the pain Afghan people have shared with Americans since 11 September.

"The Afghan people, they know the pain of the American people better than all other people because the Afghan people have lost exactly in the same way. Exactly in the same way," Karzai said. "They were killed, their buildings were destroyed in the most brutal manner, and the Afghans understand America's pain."

The Afghan leader promised to track down those responsible for the September attacks and bring them to justice. Karzai was due to address the opening of the World Economic Forum in New York, where hundreds of the world's leading business executives and politicians will discuss how to repair the world's economy and society in the aftermath of 11 September.