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Preparations Underway for Afghan Peacekeepers' Arrival - 2002-01-02


A reconnaissance team from 12 of the 17 nations contributing to the international security force for Afghanistan is in Kabul to assess the needs on the ground. The preparations will pave the way for the main body of the estimated 4500 troops of the international force.

The international group began arriving in Kabul late Tuesday night to survey conditions for the peacekeeping force that will initially be led by Britain.

Some 300 British troops have been in Kabul for the past 10 days but aside from a few, mostly symbolic patrols in the city, they have not been very active.

Colonel Richard Barrons is Chief of Staff of the Headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). He says so far the peacekeepers have been given a warm welcome, but he says ISAF forces are well aware of the challenges ahead.

"Clearly, Afghanistan is a troubled place and there are a proportion of the community who are very nervous about our presence," Colonel Barrons said. "But for the vast majority of people, they've been delighted to see us and we look forward to establishing a really good partnership with them."

Colonel Barrons says that while the peacekeeping mission is not new for many of the soldiers on the ground here, there are some distinct differences that create a real challenge.

"We're coming into a country that is very unfamiliar to us," he noted, "and there are real cultural differences that we've got to learn about and abide by, and we are a very long way from Europe. So from a soldier's perspective, this is a simple task in a very complex environment, a long way from home. And that's where the challenge lies."

The Bonn conference that set up the interim government now in office in Afghanistan also provided for the presence of peacekeepers in the capital. But many in Afghanistan would like to see the troops deployed elsewhere in the country.

Interim leader Hamid Karzai said in a newspaper interview that he would like to see ISAF's mandate extended. He said that Afghans from all over the country had asked him to send in peacekeepers.

The French news agency AFP says the first unit of French soldiers has also arrived at the Bagram airbase, north of Kabul. The report quotes a French military official in Kabul as saying the team arrived Wednesday from Dushanbe, the capital of neighboring Tajikistan.

Military officials here expect it will take several weeks for the main force to be on the ground and operational.

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