After weeks of speculation, Britain's Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon Wednesday announced that Britain will lead an international stabilization force in Afghanistan.
The United Nations resolution authorizing the deployment has not been formalized yet, nor have the specific operational details been fully determined, but Britain has accepted the role of leading the international peacekeeping force that will soon enter Afghanistan.
Although as many as 200 British Royal Marines should be in Kabul by Saturday, the day the interim Afghan government takes over, the full complement of peacekeepers will not be in place for another month. As to the British commitment, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon spelled out the specifics in the House of Commons Wednesday. "Our commitment is limited in numbers - up to 1,500 troops - and duration - up to three months," he said.
Several nations have expressed an interest in taking over after that initial period. As to who else will be contributing troops, Mr. Hoon said more than a dozen states are prepared. "This will be an international force," said Geoff Hoon. "It's too soon to say exactly how many troops it will include, or the nations from which they will come, but the force will number 3,000 to 5,000 and will include contributions from the armed forces of several nations."
A key feature of this multi-national force will be a reliance on U.S. air support to move the international troops in and to provide critical air power if situations arise where that is required.
Defense Secretary Hoon acknowledged that the mission will have its dangers, but he said Britain has a moral responsibility to deploy the force and to help bring stability to Afghanistan. "We're aware that we've taken on significant responsibilities," he said. "The war there is being won. We must now secure the peace."
British Major General John McColl will command the force from his headquarters in Kabul. He expects that a military/technical agreement with the new interim administration can be secured within days of it assuming power. It is this agreement that will outline the exact size, composition and role of the stabilization force.