Karzai calls for multinational military force to be expanded

Saturday, January 26, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai said Friday that the international force policing the capital should be expanded and deployed in the chaotic provinces, while U.S. leaders said that the American military presence in the country might be prolonged.

Karzai made Friday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was making the first visit by a chief of the world body to Afghanistan in more than four decades. Annan said he would press donor nations to quickly start the flow of money promised to bolster the post-Taliban government.

The interim leader also announced the 21 names on a commission to appoint a loya jirga, or grand council, that will choose a transitional government to rule when his government's six-month term expires.

About 2,200 troops from a British-led multinational force have deployed, and their number is due to rise to 5,000. But the troops are confined to the capital, Kabul, while warlords with deep feuds hold sway in the provinces. Many Afghans fear an eruption of factional violence that killed thousands before the Taliban took over in 1996.

Afghan desire

Karzai said there was a wide desire among Afghans for a bigger international military presence -- and one outside Kabul.

"A lot of Afghans who came to see us in the past month asked us for the presence of the international security force in other parts of Afghanistan," he said at a news conference with Annan in Kabul.

The U.S.-led forces hunting renegades operate separately from the peacekeeping force. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday that U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan at least into the summer to help the new government find its feet.

U.S. forces on Friday were interrogating 27 prisoners captured during a firefight this week that wounded one Army Special Forces soldier and killed several al-Qaida or Taliban fighters. The interrogation was "most likely" taking place at the Marine base at Kandahar airport, spokesman Capt. Tony Rivers said.

The fighters were captured along with a large weapons cache in a raid on two Taliban compounds Wednesday at Hazar Qadam, some 60 miles north of Kandahar. The prisoners are believed to be "relatively senior" figures and are predominantly Taliban, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Friday.

Several fighters were killed, officials said. "There were casualties, but we don't keep body counts," Rivers said.

Clarke said the weapons stash illustrates the size of the task ahead.

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