EU may push for more Afghan peackeepers

By PAMELA HESS, Pentagon correspondent  |  June 12, 2002 at 8:47 AM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, June 12 (UPI) -- While the United States and United Nations continue to call for international peacekeepers to stay in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, the European Union's special envoy said Wednesday that expanding the force isn't yet a dead issue.

"It is a decision that should be revisited when the new administration is in place," Klaus Peter Klaiber told reporters at a news conference. "People would be all too happy to have security forces deployed in other regions."

Nearby, delegates to the loya jirga are currently selecting a head of state and discussing how to structure their new government.

Klaiber said the matter of extending the International Security and Assistance Force beyond Kabul is currently being debated in several European capitals.

Klaiber's comments about the need for more of an international presence stem from his visits last month with two warlords in northern Afghanistan, Atta Mohammed and Gen. Abdur Rashid Dostum. A number of warlords have emerged since the former Taliban regime fell last fall.

"They told him they were very pleased not to have ISAF in their area," so they could continue fighting, building their armies and levying taxes, a European Union official told United Press International.

Warlords have been engaged in turf wars trying to increase their influence prior to formation of a formal Afghani government.

The United States staunchly opposes the extension of the peacekeeping force on the grounds that Afghanistan must police itself to be truly secure. To that end, the United States has been the primary patron of the nascent Afghan National Army.

"I would ... agree with those that maybe some (European) countries have not pledged enough money for this program to go forward," Klaiber said.

However, at the same time as it tries to build an Afghan army to provide internal security, the United States continues to arm, train and work with regional warlords in their ongoing effort to rout out remaining Taliban and al Qaida fighters.

The contradiction is not lost on Klaiber.

"That is a diifficult question because I realize our American friends all have two agendas. One is to continue the fight against remnants of Al Qaida, should there be any, and two, at the same time help the reconstruction of the country," Klaiber said. "It is very difficult indeed and quite interesting the way the Americans are handling this issue."

Warlords are a very public presence at the loya jirga, a gathering of Afghan leaders, which opened Tuesday, a day behind schedule. They are trying to create a structure for the new government to replace the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist rulers whom the United States accused of given refuge to Osama bin Laden, who, it is believed, masterminded attacks on the United States in September. The Taliban were forced from power by U.S. airstrikes late last fall, but the fate of bin Laden is unknown.

The Bonn agreement which set out the parameters for the loya jirga in December specifically banned warlords and arms at the meeting. Both are in abundance.

"I was amazed to see in the first and second row practically all those so called warlords sitting together. I saw them chatting together in a very peaceful way," Klaiber said. "It tells me the interim authority has decided to try to integrate" the warlords into policy-making in Kabul.

"We are going to try to help the interim authority get control of the entire country," Klaiber said.

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