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NATO-Led Peacekeepers Arrive in  Kunduz, Afghanistan - 2003-10-25

NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan have begun expanding security operations beyond the capital, Kabul. More than two dozen German troops arrived in the northern town of Kunduz to shore up security, and more are to be deployed in the coming months.

The deployment of German troops in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz is part of international efforts to improve security for aid workers, and help in reconstruction outside the capital, Kabul.

By the middle of next year, Germany plans to send up to 450 soldiers to Kunduz. The region is relatively free of political and ethnic tension, which plagues southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.

Aid workers and diplomats say the current security situation is eroding, with attacks continuing by members of the ousted Taleban and operatives from the al-Qaida terrorist network.

They said thousands more peacekeepers will be needed, if the country is to hold elections in June.

But so far, Germany is the only nation to have agreed to send significant numbers of troops to expand the NATO-led multinational peacekeeping operation.

The U.N. Security Council earlier this month approved expanding the mandate of the international force outside Kabul, where about 5,500 troops from 30 countries are currently deployed.

On Friday, the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai formally launched a national program to disarm about 100,000 Afghan militia fighters across the country.

The U.N.-backed disarmament campaign also took off from the northern town of Kunduz, and is aimed at reducing the power of some of Afghanistan's notorious warlords who run these armed fighters. They are seen as the biggest obstacle to efforts to extend the authority of President Karzai's government beyond the Afghan capital.