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Karzai Asks Britain to Expand Role of Peacekeepers - 2002-01-31

The interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has held talks in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Afghanistan's security needs.

Mr. Karzai has asked Britain to expand the role of an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, but he got no commitment from Mr. Blair.

The leaders discussed Afghanistan's security and reconstruction needs in talks at Mr. Blair's official London residence.

Britain now leads a 2,500 member peacekeeping force confined to the Afghan capital, Kabul. Britain intends to hand off its leadership in March, though it is not clear which country will take up the mandate.

Mr. Karzai has said he gets constant requests from Afghan provincial leaders for international peacekeepers to deploy in their regions.

"The Afghan people really are asking for this force as a symbol of commitment of the international community," he said.

But Mr. Blair is not promising British troops beyond their current, limited mission.

"It was always anticipated that we would hand over the leadership of that force to others. That we will do. And I think you will find that that long-term commitment from the international community is there," he said.

Mr. Blair has said Britain will give logistical support to whatever force takes over in the future. The British defense ministry has said it could provide military training to a new Afghan army.

Mr. Karzai began his visit to London by attending a meeting of Mr. Blair's cabinet, a rare honor last given to former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Karzai told the cabinet education and health are among his priorities. He promised corruption-free administration of the billions of dollars of reconstruction aid expected to flow into Afghanistan.