International peacekeeping force soon to go into Afghanistan

Thursday, December 6, 2001

Associated Press WriterBRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that an international peacekeeping force will soon be sent into Afghanistan, although "the mix and the leadership" among nations has yet to be determined.

Powell told a news conference at NATO headquarters that the new interim post-Taliban government formed a day earlier had requested the presence of peacekeepers

"There will be no shortage of troops," Powell said.

Citing reports that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had agreed to hand over control of the militia's last bastion of Kandahar, Powell said it is just a matter of time until the last remnants of Taliban control end.

Powell said that NATO partners, at their winter meeting, had agreed to move more quickly to improve the capacity to resist terrorism.

"Now, more than ever, NATO matters," Powell said.

The 19-nation alliance pledged in a statement to stand fast "individually and collectively" behind the U.S.-led military operation to root out terrorists linked to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

It agreed "to combat this scourge ... for as long as necessary."

The alliance also agreed to set up a new council within NATO that would include Russia.

But Powell said Russia would not have veto powers, and that NATO could still act on issues without consulting Russia.

Powell said a decision will be made soon on the makeup and leadership of a peacekeeping force.

"Getting the right mix and leadership remains to be sorted out," he said.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Powell also sought financial support from NATO members for the day-old interim post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

And he worked to ease members' concerns that their offers of troops for the Afghanistan operation were being spurned.

"The circumstances of this campaign means that not every ally is fighting in Afghanistan -- but every ally is in the fight," Powell said earlier.

"Don't stand down, there's a lot more to be done," he added.

Many nations have offered troops in the Afghan military effort, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy. But only a relatively few have seen action. That has prompted some frustration among key allies.

"We must move quickly to increase our capacity to resist terrorist attacks," Powell said. He also urged NATO to expand its contacts with the nations of central Asia, "and we need to do that now."

Powell spoke behind closed doors at the winter meeting of North American Treaty Organization foreign ministers. His remarks, as delivered, were made available by U.S. officials.

The alliance's secretary general, Lord Robertson, opened Thursday's session by declaring that NATO must be "ready for the long haul."

"The threats have changed, but our resilience and relevance have not," Robertson said in public remarks.

"There has to be zero tolerance on terrorism," Robertson said.

Earlier, Powell said he would press NATO allies to help provide emergency funds to help the new coalition government about to take power in Afghanistan.

Powell said he would find some funds in his State Department budget as well as passing a "collection plate" among NATO allies. "I've got everybody in town," he said, without suggesting a price tag.

The alliance earlier invoked a clause in its founding treaty declaring that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

As an alliance, NATO is providing such support as blanket overflight clearances to Afghanistan, access to ports and airfields and increased intelligence sharing for the U.S.-led coalition forces.

Nearly all member nations are separately providing additional military help and Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands are among those that have offered troops, ships and aircraft.

On an eight-day, 10-country tour of Europe and central Asia, Powell told Turkish leaders in Ankara on Wednesday that their military would likely play a key role in an Afghan peacekeeping force.

NATO ministers were also expected to back closer ties with Russia.

On Friday, the allies will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on bringing Moscow at least part of the way into the NATO fold.

The United States says it appreciates Russia's cooperation in the war in Afghanistan and is willing to accept President Vladimir Putin's overtures for closer relations.

The allies believe they must seize this opportunity to take a new direction in Europe, making Russia a full partner in forging European security, alliance officials and diplomats said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: