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US, Britain Discuss Takeover of Afghan Peacekeeping Force  with Turkey - 2002-03-14

U.S., Turkish and British officials have been meeting in Ankara to discuss a proposal for Turkey to take over command of the multi-national security force in Afghanistan after Britain. The U.S. special representative to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, described the talks as constructive.

Britain currently leads the peacekeeping contingent known as the International Security Assistance force, or ISAF, but it is eager to hand over command to Turkey when its term expires in April. Turkey has said it is willing to assume command of the force, but it has set a number of conditions that it says need to be met before it does so.

In a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in late February, Turkey's prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, said his country wants to be assured of the participation of other countries in the ISAF.

Analysts say Mr. Ecevit's demand reflects Ankara's growing concern over Afghanistan's own reported reservations about having the Turks in charge.

Ethnic Pashtuns, who form the majority group in Afghanistan, are said to be opposed to an expanded Turkish military presence because of Ankara's close ties to the Uzbek warlord, Rashid Dostum.

In February, Turkey became the first Muslim majority country to join the 4,500-strong peacekeeping force when it sent 267 troops to handle security patrols and humanitarian aid. The number of Turkish troops is to be raised to 1,000 should Ankara agree to take command of the force.

Turkey volunteered to lead the force in a bid to enhance its international prestige as well as its strategic value in the eyes of its Western allies. But it insists that ISAF can be effective only if its mandate is extended beyond Kabul, in order to keep troublesome Afghan warlords outside the capital from sabotaging its efforts.

Turkish officials are pressing for guarantees of sufficient manpower and equipment from other nations participating in the mission to ensure success under its control.

Turkey is also demanding that foreign governments help with the estimated annual $60 million cost for maintaining its troops in Afghanistan.