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Foreign Troops Bring Sense of Security to Afghanistan - 2002-02-04

Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's interim government has been urging world leaders to contribute to a greater international security presence in the country. Many people in Afghanistan are hoping foreign troops will help bring long sought security to the war-torn country.

British army Sergeant Gazin gets his men ready to go. They're dressed in camouflage fatigues and armed with automatic rifles and radio communications gear. They belong to one of the most renowned regiments of the British army - the Ghurkhas. Sergeant Gazin and his men are assigned to the British paratroop contingent here in Kabul and every day they set out on patrol.

They leave their base, pick up local Afghan policemen on the way and then head for one of the Kabul neighborhoods they've been assigned to patrol.

Today, a group of about six soldiers is on foot patrol in Kotei Sangee, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Their mission is to assess conditions in the area, talk with local residents and scout out any trouble.

Sergeant Gazin and his men come from Nepal and communicate with local residents either in English, through an interpreter, or sometimes in Urdu. Small crowds form quickly around the foreign soldiers. Residents seem to appreciate their presence.

One elderly man says it's good to have the foreign soldiers here because they brought peace and calm and he wants them to stay.

Others chime in, saying the foreign troops have brought security and should be sent to other cities and provinces until stability has been established there also. After that, a man says, the foreign troops should go back home.

This is the kind of security presence Afghanistan's interim government would like more of. Right now there are a few thousand foreign troops on patrol around Kabul. Their numbers are to increase to about 5,000 in the coming weeks. The government is proposing some 20,000 foreign security forces be spread out in the country's major cities. And a senior United Nations official said recently some 30,000 foreign troops may be needed to ensure security.

At a recent news conference in Kabul, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said such a presence is important for Afghans.

"A lot of Afghans that came to see us in the past month asked us for the presence of the international security force in other provinces of Afghanistan," he said. "The presence of the security force does in a way give the Afghans a sense of guarantee of the international community's commitment to stay and help Afghanistan."

Mr. Karzai repeated his plea for an increased security force during talks last week in Washington, New York and London, but he got no promises. Instead U.S. President Bush said Washington would help build a national Afghan army and police force.

But that may take some time. Local residents here in Kotei Sangee are skeptical. They don't want a national army or police made up of the old militias that plunged the country into civil war in the early 1990s.

Guljan, 42, works for the Kabul municipal government. He remembers the days when rival militia factions reduced this neighborhood and much of Kabul to rubble.

"We know what they did," he said. "Look around and see all the houses and the destruction. Who would trust them again? The foreign troops who are here are kind and if our own police force had been kind, people, the country would not be in the state it's in now."

Guljan says, maybe, with the help of the foreigners, Afghanistan will be able to form a good national Afghan police and army.

Hamid Karzai clearly hopes foreign troops will give the average Afghan a greater sense of security. The presence of heavily armed foreign soldiers might also act as a deterrent against factional fighting among the country's many warlords. Last week fighting erupted in the eastern city of Gardez between forces loyal to a provincial governor appointed by Kabul and forces supporting the local town council, which opposed his appointment. More than 50 people were killed and negotiations were launched to try to resolve the dispute. Similar rivalries have threatened to spill over into violence in other parts of the country as well.

Such incidents underscore the fragile security situation in the country and the threat they could pose to the interim government. And Mr. Karzai knows that without stability, Afghanistan cannot hope to begin rebuilding.