President Bush said it is premature to consider the use of U.S. troops in a peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. The administration said it must first finish the military mission there.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president's first concern is winning the war in Afghanistan. The introduction of peacekeepers there is something he called "a matter of timing." "The United States right now is focused on winning the war in Afghanistan, so that conditions for peace can be achieved. That is the president's focus as we speak. The war remains underway. The president has said repeatedly, and repeats, that the purpose of America's military is to fight and win wars," he said.
U.S. General Tommy Franks said it would be premature to have peacekeepers in northern Afghanistan while he is still pressing on with the war against Taleban leaders and members of the al-Qaida terrorist group in the south.
Several members of the international coalition have already offered peacekeepers, including Britain, France, Canada, Turkey, and Jordan. Mr. Fleischer said the final decision on who makes up a peacekeeping force will rest with the transitional government it is hoped will come out of talks among rival Afghan leaders in Germany. "The ultimate decisions as to the aspects of who exactly will be in an international peacekeeping effort will be made by the parties in Afghanistan," he said.
During the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Bush said repeatedly that the purpose of the U.S. military is to fight and win wars, not to keep the peace. While Mr. Fleischer said that position has not changed, he would not rule out the use of U.S. troops in a peacekeeping mission, once the timing is right. "All this is a tad premature as well. There is a war underway in Afghanistan. The best way to achieve an environment in which international peacekeepers can arrive into Afghanistan is for the United States to complete the mission in Afghanistan. The mission is underway. There is no telling how long it will last. There is no telling how long Afghanistan will still be a nation that is hosting Osama bin Laden, wherever he may be, and all the top lieutenants of al-Qaida. I want to remind you, the president announced a specific mission, and that was to defend our country, and to defend freedom by bringing al-Qaida and the Taleban to justice. That has not yet been achieved," he said.
Members of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance said they no longer oppose the use of international peackeepers in Afghanistan. The talks in Germany have reached broad agreement on the shape of an interim authority and are discussing who might serve in that administration.