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U.N. backs peace force for Afghanistan

By United Press International

The emphasis in Afghanistan shifted from war to peace Thursday when the U.N. Security Council endorsed a multinational security force for the war-ravaged country.

In neighboring Pakistan, security forces have killed 12 Arab and Chechen members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network who had escaped from their custody.

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Authorities also have arrested 27 of the 36 al Qaida prisoners who had escaped Wednesday after killing 10 Pakistani guards. They were among 194 al Qaida prisoners the guards were taking to the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar for interrogation by U.S. and Pakistani officials.

Hundreds of al Qaida and Taliban militants have been arrested while trying to enter Pakistan after the collapse of the religious militia last month.

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces and their Afghan allies are still searching for bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, who disappeared after U.S.-supported tribal armies ran over their strongholds in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders have said they will welcome an international peace force if it stays for a short period.

On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed a plan for sending an International Security Assistance Force to Kabul for six months.

Britain, which is sending 1,500 troops -- the largest contingent -- will lead this force of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. France has also agreed to contribute 800 soldiers while Spain has offered a battalion of 700. The Netherlands, Germany and Italy are also expected to contribute troops.

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Some non-European nations have also been asked to participate.

The United States, which already has troops inside Afghanistan, will not join the peacekeeping force but is expected to provide logistic and political support.

Led by a British major general, John McColl, the force will be accountable to the U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense told United Press International that 50 U.K. Marines arrived at the Bagram airfield, north of Kabul, on Thursday. They will bolster a British presence of about 150 soldiers, who were among the first units to use the battered base in mid-November.

The airfield was abandoned by Soviet forces while withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1989 and brought back into service when the British moved in initially to prepare for a larger military deployment and relief aid airlifts.

The United States and its allies want some international troops inside Kabul by Saturday when Afghanistan's new interim ruler Hamid Karzai assumes power. More troops will arrive by Dec. 28, while it will take at least two more weeks for the full force to assemble.

"The United Kingdom is very pleased that we moved so quickly in the Security Council once decisions had been taken with the Afghans and with other troop contributors to move forward and get this force in place before the interim authority takes office," said Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations.

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Meanwhile, representatives from 22 countries held talks at a military retreat outside London on the formation of this multinational force.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon says the peacekeeping force faces a "challenging, difficult and sometimes dangerous" task in Kabul, which contains a number of armed factions.

Asked if a British deployment would coincide with the withdrawal of other armed groups, including the Northern Alliance, the spokesman said, "That is to be part of the technical agreement" with Afghanistan's interim rulers. Content: 11001000 11002000 11014000 16001000 16002000 16009000

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