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Afghanistan: UN Envoy Presses Security Council To Expand Force

United Nations, 14 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has urged the UN Security Council to authorize the expansion of international forces beyond Kabul, saying it is crucial to the success of the political reform process.

Brahimi said the expansion of forces was needed to ensure that the Bonn process, which envisions national elections next June, will permit what he called "fair political competition."

The UN envoy also said that poor security conditions in much of the country have stalled development activity, disrupting services to the public, and threatening confidence in the peace process.

Brahimi told reporters after his closed-door meeting with the Council yesterday that he outlined a strategy for improving security, legislation on political parties, and other matters.

"To organize credible, free, and fair elections, there are a lot of other things that need to be done by the Afghan government and by the international community. And we have invited the Council today, in very clear terms, to really take on the job of providing what we call the 'benchmarks' that are needed in the security field, in the legislation field and in other issues," Brahimi said.

UN officials and Afghan authorities have repeatedly called on the Security Council to authorize an expansion of the security mandate in Afghanistan. But the United States, which leads an antiterror coalition of forces in Afghanistan, and other Council members have instead stressed the need to train the Afghan National Army and police. In recent months, Washington has begun setting up small teams of military-backed reconstruction teams in provinces outside Kabul as a way of spreading security.

Brahimi welcomed the deployment of the provincial reconstruction teams. He said they will support the constitutional Loya Jirga -- or grand assembly -- in October as well as demobilization and disarmament efforts. But he said a greater international security presence was needed to help the Afghan central government expand its authority.

He said he did not discuss with Council members yesterday specific troop levels for any expansion of the 5,000-member International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) now deployed in Kabul. But he suggested to reporters that about 8,000 to 13,000 more international troops would be needed to safeguard the political process.

Brahimi said his proposal was modest compared to the international deployment of about 40,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo after it became a UN protectorate in 1999. He noted that the number of returning Afghan refugees alone last year was greater than Kosovo's population of 2 million.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, said a number of Council members have welcomed NATO's assumption of command this month for the international force in Kabul. He noted that there has been talk of a broader NATO role.

"There is the expectation that one of the issues that NATO might discuss in the weeks or months ahead is the issue of considering the possibility of the expansion of the ISAF role beyond Kabul. [Meanwhile], many delegations commented [yesterday] on the importance of these provincial reconstruction teams as a useful element in supplementing security in Afghanistan," Negroponte said.

Brahimi stressed that despite security concerns, much progress had been made on carrying out the reforms outlined at an international conference in Bonn late in 2001. He urged the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan.

"There is every reason to think this peace process can be taken to a very, very successful end in a relatively short time if we don't walk away or do things halfway, as it were," Brahimi said.

Brahimi's meeting with Council members took place on a day of widespread violence in Afghanistan. News agency reports say more than 60 people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of attacks and skirmishes across the country.

The United Nations suspended its mission in parts of southern Afghanistan during the weekend after growing attacks on relief workers.