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NATO to Decide Whether to Expand Forces in Afghanistan - 2003-09-26


NATO Secretary-General George Robertson says the alliance is near a final decision on whether to expand international peacekeeping in Afghanistan beyond the capital, Kabul.

NATO took over command of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, last month, and is being asked by its members and the Afghan government to deploy peacekeepers beyond Kabul.

Secretary-General George Robertson says NATO military experts should make their recommendation on expanding into the provinces within a few weeks.

Fighting is still going on in Afghanistan, mostly in the southern and eastern provinces, where remnants of the former Taleban and other insurgents are fighting government troops and their U.S. allies.

Scores of private armies and militias across the country are perpetuating the violence. Many of the militias draw pay from the Defense Ministry, but are in fact solely under the command of regional warlords. Even Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim keeps a large militia, separate from the government army and deployed partly within the capital itself.

Mr. Robertson says, however, he believes Mr. Fahim is committed to disbanding all militias, including his own.

"[Mohammed] Fahim Khan… gave me his pledge as the minister of defense of Afghanistan, that the armed forces of this country will be regularized, that they will be modernized, and that, inside Kabul, he will insure that there are no irregulars," he said.

Mr. Robertson rebuts those who say security for Afghanistan is not possible under current conditions.

"There were many people who said coming to Afghanistan was 'mission impossible,'" said Mr. Robertson. "Some of these are the same people who said to us in 1995 that Bosnia was a mission impossible, and yet Bosnia is a very different part of the European continent today than it was in 1995, in the wake of a horrifying and violent war."

Mr. Robertson says that if the NATO-led ISAF expands beyond Kabul, it will probably work closely with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are small military units from many nations, carrying out reconstruction projects in the countryside.

Such an expansion, however, will involve a much bigger troop commitment from nations contributing to ISAF, some of which are not NATO members. The total number of soldiers serving with the militias reportedly totals more than 100,000, while the Afghan government army and ISAF have just over 10,000. ISAF was created by the United Nations, after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taleban in 2001.