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Afghanistan: Germany's Schroeder, UN's Annan, Discuss Future Of ISAF Force

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has told the German parliament that the mandate for the multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan should be extended and that the force should be deployed beyond Kabul. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he is prepared to consider an extension of the mandate but does not believe the force should be deployed outside the Kabul area.

Munich, 1 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the German parliament on 27 February that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan should stay in place for far longer than its current six-month mandate.

"Peacekeepers should leave as soon as they can, once they have helped create the conditions under which a country can sustain stability, but they should never be withdrawn abruptly and prematurely, which is why I very much hope that the present international security force in Afghanistan can be extended beyond this present mandate."

Annan also said ISAF should extend its operations beyond the capital Kabul across the country to control already-developing trouble spots. Annan declined to name specific areas of concern in Afghanistan, but German officials said later that in a private meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the UN chief suggested that the force might be deployed in Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad and Khost Province.

Annan supported his appeal with a reminder of how Afghanistan slid into civil war after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. He said it was essential that the West should not lose interest in Afghanistan now as it did then.

"Unhappily, neglect is what happens to war-torn countries once they slip out of the headlines," Annan said. "Our aim must be to create a substantial peace:"

"I am not suggesting that the peacekeeping mission should remain indefinitely in countries emerging from conflict. On the contrary, it is very important to wean the countries away from dependency. Peacekeepers and peacebuilders should always be supporting national efforts and promoting self-reliance, not substituting themselves for the local leaders and administration."

Schroeder later told journalists he understood Annan's appeal for an extension of ISAF's mandate beyond its scheduled end in June. He said Germany will maintain its own contribution of 600 troops for at least the duration of the original mandate.

Schroeder also said Germany is ready, if necessary, to discuss with its allies an extension of the mandate beyond June. He added, however, that Germany does have reservations about deploying peacekeeping forces outside Kabul.

"We made clear that we will not reduce our involvement [in the peacekeeping force] and that we are prepared to discuss an extension of the mandate if circumstances require that. We also said we have reservations about a geographical broadening of the mandate."

Schroeder said he had rejected a new request from Annan for Germany to assume the leadership of the international force when Britain completes its stint in that role next month (April).

Schroeder said Germany's armed forces are already stretched to their limits because of their commitments to peacekeeping forces in the Balkans. The German government has previously said that its military lacks the manpower, equipment and finances to take over the ISAF leadership in Afghanistan.

Schroeder said, however, that Germany is prepared to extend its role in the peacekeeping force and in the rebuilding of the country to the limits of its ability. Germany has already agreed to help train police forces in Afghanistan and to assist Britain and the U.S. in helping to build an Afghan national army.

In his speech to the German parliament, Annan referred several times to the dangerous situation which could develop in Afghanistan if the international community lost interest and failed to live up to its commitments to help rebuild the country.

He said several countries have yet to provide the financial aid they pledged at donor conferences and appealed to them to do so.

The UN secretary-general said he understood why governments did not want to keep troops in a foreign country for an indefinite period with no political resolution in sight. But he said the UN did have a so-called "withdrawal strategy" for the ISAF force once a stable government and development projects were in place. But that, Annan said, would take time.