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Afghanistan: Officials Say Security Situation Improving In Kabul

Afghanistan's interim interior minister and the British commander of the international security force both say the country has seen marked improvements in security over the past two months, and that further changes are yet to come. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier is in Kabul and files this report.

Kabul, 5 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Interim Interior Minister Yunis Qanooni and General John McColl, the head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -- say the security situation in the Afghan capital Kabul is improving daily.

But the two officials, speaking at a joint press conference in Kabul yesterday, also said that factional fighting remains a serious concern elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Qanooni said plans are under way to create and train an Afghan police force that will eventually comprise 70,000 officers:

"In the next four-and-a-half months, we will have a 29,000-strong trained police force. We are working to create a truly national police force, composed of people from all over the country. I believe -- if what has been pledged by the international community for the Afghan police comes in a timely manner -- we will even be prepared in less than a year."

Qanooni said the interim government hopes Germany will help train the new police force. Afghanistan and Germany have strong ties going back to the days of World War I when the Afghan emir, while refusing to join Germany in planning an attack of British-held India, also refused to turn over to the Allies the German citizens who found sanctuary in Afghanistan during the war. Many Afghan refugees also made Germany their home during the 23 years of war in Afghanistan.

McColl, who is commanding the ISAF troops for the first three months of their mandate, said the security force is operating without problems in Kabul and has recently begun conducting joint patrols with Afghan police:

"A good working relationship with the police is critical, and I'm pleased to report we have now established a joint operations room with the police, which ensures close coordination with the police across Kabul. And furthermore, we've established and maintain a very close working relationship with the Interior Ministry and in particular with His Excellency, the interior minister, which ensures our joint efforts are focused wherever they're required within the city."

McColl said this increased security is responsible for bringing life back in the Afghan capital and he listed some of the noticeable improvements he has seen since coming to Kabul:

"The first day when I came to Kabul -- in mid-December -- the streets were relatively quiet and there were few cars and the level of economic activity was comparatively low. Six weeks later, as you all know, the streets are teeming, the markets are full of goods, the streets are full of people, and we're seeing more and more cars on the road every day."

McColl also confirmed that ISAF is due to begin training the first unit of the Afghan National Guard later this month:

"I anticipate that the first battalion of the national guard will begin training later this month. Personnel were chosen from across the country -- which I think was an important point -- and trained here in Kabul. The whole training package will take six weeks."

Both the police and the national guard are needed. The situation outside Kabul is far from secure, as indicated by recent reports of factional fighting in Gardez and Mazar-i-Sharif. Qanooni said security is still a major concern outside the capital, adding that non-Afghan elements are to blame:

"There is, unfortunately, still sabotage and internal interference caused by foreigners inside of Afghanistan."

Even in Kabul, security issues remain. Complaints are on the rise about the mainly ethnic Tajik forces of the Northern Alliance, many of whom remain heavily armed despite the city's disarmament policy. According to McColl, the policy, as it reads in Dari, requires only that guns be kept off the street, not handed over to authorities. As a result, many militia units have withdrawn -- with their weapons -- to makeshift barracks. A deputy minister for border affairs told RFE/RL that the number of attacks on ethnic Pashtuns by Tajiks from the Northern Alliance is increasing.