The United Nations Security Council has authorized the extension of an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan for an additional six months. But it has declined to expand the force's mandate beyond Kabul despite repeated appeals by UN officials assisting the political-reform process in the country. Council members affirmed their confidence in the preparations for the Loya Jirga and pledged support to help Afghanistan's interim administration build its own security force.
United Nations, 24 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- With Afghanistan's political process entering a crucial phase, the United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the Kabul region.
The vote yesterday extends the force's mandate another six months after its initial term ends on 20 June. The 4,500-member force is served by what diplomats call a "coalition of the willing" -- not UN peacekeepers -- and contributions have come from nearly 20 countries, most of them NATO members.
Britain will transfer leadership of the force to fellow NATO member Turkey next month. Turkey's UN Ambassador Mehmet Pamir told the council his country is committed to helping Afghanistan return to peace and stability.
"Turkey, who has had traditionally warm relations with this beleaguered country [Afghanistan] and its people, is happy that this opportunity to contribute distinctly to this evolution towards normalcy will now be carried out," Pamir said.
The council vote to maintain a limited force following an appeal by UN Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast to authorize an expansion of the international force. Prendergast expressed concern about the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where rival warlords have battled for control, as well as eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Prendergast said the fragile security situation could undermine the process to build a representative, multiethnic government, including next month's Loya Jirga.
"We cannot expect a sustained reconstruction process to be launched in Afghanistan without real improvements in security outside Kabul and its environs," Prendergast said.
Pakistan's Deputy UN Ambassador Khalid Masood also urged the council to strengthen the mandate of the international force. He said Pakistan supports efforts to train the fledgling Afghan national army and police but said the process is too slow to address Afghanistan's immediate security needs.
"We feel that [the force's] size and scope must be expanded and extended to encompass the entire country, especially its major urban centers," Masood said.
But the 15 council members and many other UN states have shown little interest in contributing to a force that would deploy outside of Kabul. The focus has shifted instead to rebuilding Afghanistan's army, police and, judicial system.
U.S. and British forces have taken the lead in training Afghan national army members. A first Afghan battalion -- numbering more than 600 members -- is expected to be in place when the Loya Jirga begins next month. France has also announced it will begin to train two Afghan army battalions starting next week.
Germany has taken the lead role in reforming and rebuilding the police, and Italy is leading efforts to reconstruct the legal and judicial system. Japan and the United Nations will help in a program to demobilize hundreds of thousands of fighters.
An international pledging conference in Geneva last week agreed to provide enough funds to launch Afghanistan's proposed program to build a national army and air force of nearly 70,000, as well as a border-guard service and police force.
Security Council diplomats acknowledge this will take time to carry out, but some expressed confidence yesterday that interim measures will help provide enough stability for the political process to mature.
About 12,000 U.S.-led coalition troops are searching for remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. And a U.S. representative, Richard Williamson, told the council those forces will help make sure the Loya Jirga does not take place in a security vacuum. Williamson said coalition forces have provided a stabilizing element in areas outside Kabul and will continue to monitor the security situation throughout the country.
"We believe that United States and coalition efforts to address the security imperatives beyond Kabul have been successful to date. We continue to envision potential security concerns outside of Kabul being addressed as necessary by coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom," Williamson said.
Despite security concerns, UN officials say they are encouraged by the participation of Afghans in the Loya Jirga process. Prendergast, the UN undersecretary-general, said there are ongoing concerns about intimidation by local military or political leaders of Afghans involved in the preparatory process for the Loya Jirga.
But he said there has been impressive turnout by Afghans in the holding of district assemblies throughout the country. In some cases, he said, the high level of popular support helped organizers to resist intimidation or corruption in the preliminary voting process.
The assemblies will select "electoral colleges" of between 20 and 60 members that will elect by secret ballot the representatives to the Loya Jirga.
Prendergast said UN officials believe the political process so far has shown the capacity for reconciliation and compromise among Afghans.