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British Troops to Assist Afghan Security Forces - 2001-12-22

Some 60 British Royal Marines have arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul to enhance security for the country's new interim government taking power on Saturday. The British troops are the first contingent of multinational peacekeepers scheduled to be deployed in Afghanistan over the next six months.

The arrival of the British troops follows several weeks of delicate negotiations between Northern Alliance officials and the United Nations.

Alliance commanders and officials had expressed fear that the Afghan people, who have a long history of revolt against foreign presence, may not accept the long-term deployment of international peacekeepers in their country.

British army spokesman, Guy Richardson, in Kabul says the troops in the city have been given a very specific and limited mission. Their job is to simply to assist Afghan security forces for the next six months.

He says the soldiers will be deployed for the first time on Saturday to provide added security at the interior ministry building where the new interim government leaders will be sworn in. "We will be providing support at static locations and we will be providing assistance to appropriate authorities in and around Kabul," he explained.

The British soldiers are the first group of multinational peacekeepers to arrive in Afghanistan since the U.N. Security Council Thursday adopted a resolution authorizing their deployment. The council is also allowing peacekeepers to use force if necessary.

Eventually, the United Nations says it envisions a force numbering up to five thousand troops to ensure the safety of the new government and to help keep peace in Kabul and possibly elsewhere in Afghanistan.

But that plan is already being challenged. The country's incoming defense minister, Mohammad Fahim, insists peacekeepers should not number more than a thousand and they should not be allowed to use force, disarm fighters, or interfere in Afghan affairs.

He is calling the peacekeeping mission purely "symbolic" and says only Afghans should be responsible for overall security.