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Solana Urges Afghanistan to Take Charge of Own Security - 2002-07-28

The foreign policy chief of the European Union, Javier Solana, says Afghanistan should take charge of its own security, instead of relying on international peacekeepers. Mr. Solana spoke in Kabul, where he met senior Afghan officials.

Mr. Solana told a news conference he would rather see Afghans build up their own army and police force than to have the international community oversee the country's security.

His comments are the latest rejection of the idea of expanding the U.N. International Security Assistance Force beyond the capital, Kabul. European countries provide the bulk of the 5,000 peacekeepers, but have resisted a broader mission for the force.

Sitting at Mr. Solana's side was Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah, who repeated the government's position that international peacekeepers are needed across the country to provide stability.

But Mr. Solana said Afghanistan needs to develop its own security apparatus. "We are very, very, very much interested in the creation, rapidly, of a national army in Afghanistan," he said, noting that there is "no better way to guarantee security than to have a national army and a national police force."

The United States and France have begun training a new Afghan National Army. The first 300-man battalion graduated last week. But military experts say it will be years before the army grows to a size to meet Afghanistan's security requirements.

In the meantime, the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai confronts security challenges in Kabul and the countryside.

Vice President Abdul Qadir was assassinated in Kabul three weeks ago. In western Herat province, there has been skirmishing between Pastun and Tajik militias, and U.S. military forces continue hunting for terrorists in eastern Afghanistan.

In a reflection of the security concerns, U.S. Special Forces are providing personal protection for President Karzai, while European experts are training a team of 240 Afghan bodyguards for cabinet ministers.