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Afghanistan: Kabul Welcomes UN Resolution On Expanded ISAF, But Many Questions Unanswered

The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution that allows the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force beyond the Afghan province of Kabul. RFE/RL reports on the importance of the resolution in terms of disarming factional militias and paving the way for democratic elections next year.

Prague, 14 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan officials today are welcoming a long-awaited resolution from the United Nations Security Council that will allow troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be deployed outside of Kabul Province.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who is the UN Security Council's president for this month, read the results of last night's vote at UN headquarters in New York: "The draft resolution received 15 votes in favor. The draft resolution has been adopted unanimously as Resolution 1510 of the year 2003."

Negroponte explained that the United States has proceeded cautiously up to now about expanding ISAF because of a lack of countries willing to contribute troops for such a mission. "There was an absence of countries that were willing to undertake such missions outside of Kabul," he said. "Now NATO has taken this force over and there is willingness, at least to a limited extent, to undertake missions outside of Kabul. And in that context we were willing to support such a resolution."

The 5,500 troops now in ISAF have been under NATO command since August. At the moment, Germany and Canada have the most soldiers in ISAF -- which is a separate force from the 11,000 foreign combat troops within the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan.

Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the expansion of ISAF outside of Kabul Province is crucial to the disarmament of the private militias of Afghanistan's regional warlords -- and thus, a necessary step toward conducting democratic elections next year in accordance with the Bonn Accords.

"We are very happy that the resolution, at the initiative of the German delegation, on the expansion of the ISAF mandate in Afghanistan has been passed by a unanimous vote. This will enable us to better take care of the security [situation] in Afghanistan, especially in preparation [for] the implementation of the Bonn process, in particular with regard to the elections that are supposed to take place next year," Pleuger said.

In Kabul, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said the UN Security Council vote was "very much welcomed" by the central government and the Afghan people. Samad said the Afghan Transitional Administration considers ISAF expansion to be vital as it embarks on a new phase of political reforms and accelerated reconstruction activities.

But Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, told REF/RL today that ordinary Afghan civilians and international aid workers in the country are cautious in their welcome of the resolution.

Parekh noted that Afghans have been disappointed many times in the last two years by broken promises from the international community. He said there are also still many unanswered questions about what the new UN resolution will mean for ordinary Afghans.

"People are waiting to see what the UN Security Council resolution is going to translate to in practice," Parekh said. "Is it going to be a substantial deployment [of troops] or is it just going to be an extension of the current PRT -- the Provincial Reconstruction Team -- approach? Are troops going to be deployed in areas where there is a real lack of security? Or are they just going to be concentrated in places where there will be minimal risk to the troops that are being sent here? And are they going to be mandated to intervene in fighting between militias [and to] carry out the disarmament process?"

Two weeks ago, Pleuger said the expansion of ISAF envisages the deployment of international troops to what he called eight urban "islands" across the country -- including Herat in the west, Kandahar in the south and Konduz and Mazar-e Sharif in the north.

Parekh said Pleuger's remarks have led observers to assume the PRT bases established or being planned by U.S.-led coalition forces in recent months will become a mechanism for expanding ISAF beyond Kabul.

"The areas that are going to be particularly critical to establish a large [ISAF] presence right now are going to be places like Mazar-e Sharif or Herat or other parts of southern Afghanistan -- both to show that the [Afghan] central government has a presence in these areas and also to prevent factional fighting from being a barrier to reconstruction and development," Parekh said.

Parekh concluded that substantial numbers of troops are needed in tense areas like Mazar-e Sharif and Herat if ISAF is to be effective. "In Mazar-e Sharif, the British PRT there currently constitutes 72 troops. That's not going to be sufficient to do anything more than mediate disputes," he said. "What they are really going to need is a substantial force. I cannot give an authoritative assessment. But I can say what members of the various factions in Mazar have concluded -- which is that an international force of 1,000 might be enough to create a neutral space in which security-sector reforms and disarmament can actually be carried out."

Germany's Ambassador Pleuger said officials in Berlin are now ready to seek parliamentary approval for their initial plan to send up to 450 German soldiers to the northern city of Konduz. So far, no other country has formally announced specific troop commitments for the expanded ISAF.