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Relief Agencies Call for Rapid Deployment of Multi-National Force in Afghanistan - 2001-11-24

Relief agencies are calling for the rapid deployment of a multi-national force to help establish and maintain order in Afghanistan. Several non-governmental agencies say increased security is essential for them to distribute badly-needed aid to the Afghan people.

To some, the Taleban's dramatic territorial losses in Afghanistan in recent days would signal an open door for humanitarian agencies to start helping the most vulnerable Afghan people.

Ken Bacon, of the aid agency Refugees International, says that, unfortunately, this is still not the case.

"We feel there is a dangerous lack of security in parts of Afghanistan that is making it difficult to distribute aid adequately, particularly food aid now," he said. "One side of it, obviously, was the murder of the four journalists earlier this week."

Relief agency officials have applauded the World Food Program's recent announcement that it has met its monthly goal of 52,000 metric tons of food going into Afghanistan. But Mr. Bacon says his organization has actually had to cut back on distribution operations inside the country because of the chaotic situation there.

"The reason to do it now is because the sooner these areas are made secure, the more food we'll be able to get in before the winter and the better off relief efforts will be," he said.

The International Rescue Committee's Mark Bartolini says his organization has faced a host of problems, especially around the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

"IRC has lost some of its vehicles," he said. "There's been harassment of our workers, and other agencies have suffered even more in terms of lootings - both by the Taleban as they were fleeing and by the Northern Alliance forces and by criminal elements in that region. Warehouses have been looted. Some vital supplies have gone missing."

Mr. Bartolini says despite assurances of safety from local military commanders around Mazar-e-Sharif, he is not confident they are able to maintain law and order.

"There's three factions that are fighting each other," he said. "There's also just general lawlessness. And our concern is that, despite the goodwill of the commanders, they don't have control over their soldiers."

The relief organizations say that is why this is a job for a multi-national stabilization force.

Mary Diaz, of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, said she believes Afghan womens' groups would support a short-term peacekeeping force made up of international troops.

"I think that they would agree that after 20-plus years of violence and exile, they need peace and security," she said. "And they see that coming from an international force - that is there on a temporary basis, but will be there to provide security for them."

There was consensus among the relief groups that the urgently needed multi-national stabilization force should be sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council but not be a formal United Nations peacekeeping mission, which would take too long to assemble. Several countries, including Britain, Turkey, France and Germany, among others have volunteered to contribute troops to such a force.