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Prospects for Peacekeeping in Afghanistan

January 9, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Afghanistan took a step towards peace last week when the interim government formally endorsed a plan for a multinational peacekeeping mission.

British General John McColl will lead the International Security Force, known as ISAF, which is charged with maintaining calm in and around the Afghan capital.

MAJ. GEN. JOHN McCOLL: The mission that I have been given is focused on Kabul, and the Security Council resolution is focused on Kabul.

Whether or not the ISAF force is deployed outside Kabul subsequently is a matter for the interim administration to take up with the international community. But I’m clear that my mission is focused on Kabul, and my priority is to get that right from the outset.

RAY SUAREZ: Under the six-month renewable agreement, the United Nations-mandated force will patrol the area around Kabul with about 5,000 troops from at least 16 mostly European nations, and is expected to be assembled over the next few weeks.

About 1,500 foreign soldiers are already on the ground in Afghanistan. Besides security patrols, their duties include assisting in rebuilding the war-shattered country’s infrastructure, including hospitals, roads and airports; removing landmines littering the landscape; and training an Afghan security force.

Afghanistan’s interim leader, Hamid Karzai, today called for the creation of that force a national army.

But for now, Afghan military forces remaining in Kabul will be quartered in their barracks. Effective today, all armed non-military men have been ordered to leave the capital within 72 hours. Security has been a top priority for Karzai since his inauguration last month. He said the Afghan people welcome the force.

HAMID KARZAI, Interim Prime Minister, Afghanistan: They see the presence of U.N. forces as a guarantee against interference, as a guarantee for the commitment of the international community, of the big powers, of the United States, and as a guarantee internally within Afghanistan that they will be given a sense of security.

So that’s, all those concerns are legitimate and we support that.

RAY SUAREZ: But security outside of Kabul remains an issue, with daily reports of armed bandits attacking aid workers, stealing food rations and taking control of roads elsewhere in the country.

U.S. troops will not take part in the peacekeeping mission, but will provide logistical support.

General Tommy Franks, the U.S. Commander overseeing the war in Afghanistan, has overall authority over the British-led security force, but he will not direct their mission.

For more on making Afghanistan secure, we get three perspectives. Sir Jeremy Greenstock is the British Ambassador to the United Nations; retired Brigadier General Stanley Cherrie was assistant Division Commander of Task Force Eagle, which in December 1995 was the first military unit to go into Bosnia to enforce the Dayton Accord — he is now a consultant; and Barnett Rubin is director of studies at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. He has written widely on Afghanistan and was a consultant to the United Nations team that helped organize the Bonn conference.

Mr. Ambassador, let’s start with you. Let’s get it out on the table at the outset — who this British led force works for. Is it a U.N. mission? Is it a NATO organized mission? How is it constituted?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: This is a U.N. Authorized mission, but it is not a U.N. mission. It’s not composed of the U.N. Component nor is it led by the United Nations.

It is a force which the Afghans have agreed under the Bonn agreement of December to have in their country in Kabul and its environs under the terms of that agreement. And the duties of that force and the way in which it will operate have been agreed directly with the Afghan authorities who retain primary responsibility for security in their country, including in Kabul.

So this is an assistance force; it is not a force that is independent of the Afghan authorities.

RAY SUAREZ: What are the rules of engagement governing the force’s operations at the outset around the capital of Kabul?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, these have been worked out in some detail with the Afghan authorities and signed with the minister of the interior last Friday the fourth of January.

Under the U.N. authority, this force has the right to use, as we say in U.N. parlance, all necessary measures — in other words lethal force if necessary to carry out its mandate, which is to make sure that there is security behind the Afghan authorities in and around Kabul — so that the interim administration, all members of it and they come from many different factions, can work without fear that another faction from their own will interfere with their personal security.

So it’s to enable the interim administration to work in Kabul.

RAY SUAREZ: General Cherrie, maybe you could discuss some of the difficulties of a mission like this, no matter where it is in the world and some of the specific challenges in a place like Afghanistan.

BRIG. GEN. STANLEY CHERRIE (Ret.): Well, as my former commander General McKenzie in the ARC used to say, getting there is about 70 percent of the problem, getting in, getting set up and getting organized to do the mission.

I think it’s going to be a little more difficult in Afghanistan. When we went in, in December of 1995, the faction’s leadership had agreed to a peaceful settlement. Now we really didn’t know for sure whether that was going to take hold, but they were almost at their culminating point, they were tired, they had been at war.

That doesn’t appear to be the case in Afghanistan now. So there will be some problems.

The fact that it’s a multinational unit, multinational units pose their own individual challenges, language, equipment, but they can be worked out. But any time you have a wide span of multinational forces, it makes it a little more difficult.

The topography of Afghanistan, it’s difficult terrain. So there are some similarities ensuring freedom of movement, making the forces go back to the barracks, etc. But it will be a tough mission, but I think, I’m glad to see it’s coming about.

RAY SUAREZ: Tough, as you say, but dangerous for the peacekeepers?

BRIG. GEN. STANLEY CHERRIE (Ret.): I think in this case from what I know about Afghanistan from watching television, I think it’s a little bit more dangerous than it was in Bosnia in 1995.

As I said, they had agreed to a peace and when we came in, although there were some tense times, the war and the fighting, they were facing one another in a zone of separation, but there was no fighting in December of 1995.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Rubin, should we even be calling this a peacekeeping mission? Is there peace to keep yet in Afghanistan?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, whether there is or not, the mission of this force is not to keep the peace. That is unlike the mission in Bosnia, this force is not sent there to enforce or to monitor an agreement among the warring parties.

This force is sent there with the agreement of essentially the victorious Afghan party, which is a coalition, in order to as Ambassador Greenstock said, assure the political neutrality of the capital and to maintain security there so the government can go about its business, but also very importantly so that people from all over the country can come there in delegations, meet with people from all parts of the government, and carry out the necessary preparations for holding the loya jirga or grand council, which will take place there in June.

Again the role of the security assistance force, which is what it is rather than a peacekeeping force, will be important in assuring the neutrality of the capital city when that very important gathering takes place.

RAY SUAREZ: Why is that an important distinction for you between a security assistance force and a peacekeeping force?

BARNETT RUBIN: Because the mission is quite different, and the risks that it entails are quite different. They’re not interposed along front lines.

What — their mission is really in many ways a capacity-building mission because they’re supposed to be transitional toward building up the Afghan national security forces and a peacekeeping mission also generally refers to one that is organized directly by the United Nations.

That’s what it means in peacekeeping parlance, and of course as Ambassador Greenstock says, it isn’t that kind of mission.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, does the document that was signed last week carry with it some obligations on the part of the interim Afghan?

We’ve discussed already what your force is going to do, what the British led force is going to do. What does the government have to do?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: The government’s job is actually primary, it is responsible under the Bonn agreement for security throughout the territory of Afghanistan. And the mission of the international security assistance force is to assist that process, as Professor Rubin has just explained.

So the interim administration must first of all take responsibility, and then make sure that the assistance force is allowed to go about the business of creating the security for which they’ve asked it. But as time moves on, the interim administration will build up its own new security forces, and this is for discussion, and the international forces there to help that process, train the new force, help it describe its tasks, and do other part of its mission under the Bonn agreement.

So it’s a double process. It’s there to help the interim administration start, and then to help it take over the business of security with real Afghan forces.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, today the interim leader, Hamid Karzai, talked about forming an Afghan national army, he talked about disarming the armed men who walk the streets of the capital.

It sounds like, from the mission that you’re describing, that a lot of different forms of expertise are going to be needed in what is still a relatively small force?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, the force will grow of course to between four and five thousand men.

And could I also say that the British, as leaders of this force will be working with other Europeans, the French, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, in due course a Turkish contingent and maybe others, have some experience of this kind of operation.

I’m afraid there have been a number of wars over the last decades where we’ve had to involve ourselves as peacekeepers, not least the Balkans, and we have learned the mixture of military diplomatic political reconstruction tasks that they’re actually going to have to do in practice.

So, yes it’s difficult, yes it’s risky. But, yes, also the forces going in there has experience in these things and they are very keen to work to help the Afghans to see their way around these rocks.

RAY SUAREZ: General Cherrie, when generals get documents like the one that was signed in Bonn, do they sometimes to figure out how to put into practice on the streets what politicians signed in a hotel ballroom somewhere?

BRIG. GEN. STANLEY CHERRIE (Ret.): Yes, they do. And that’s one of the things you do up front.

The mission analysis is what we call it, taking a political document and then turning that into actions and orders that your subordinates can understand.

And listening to the Ambassador and the professor, this mission is as much wider, and has more to it than the mission, not to demean the mission we had, but we had clearly identified tasks that we had to do, establish a zone of separation, remove the warring factions from that zone, ensure freedom of movement, and marking clear minefields and some others.

But they were pretty much tasks that were understandable by the military, form joint military commissions. This will take some doing to translate it into things that military people and security people understand.

But as the Ambassador said, the British are pretty good at doing this, they’ve been doing it for a long while. We were working for a British led headquarters, the ARC, they do a pretty good job at translating that into actions and orders.

RAY SUAREZ: And professor, given the complexities of the mission you’ve been hearing described, are there parties in Afghanistan who have a vested interest in making sure this fails?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, obviously the remnants of the hardcore Taliban and al-Qaida still may be lurking around would want it to fail.

At this point I don’t think there’s any group, say, within the government or otherwise who has a vested interest in making it fail per se. But, the fact is that in carrying out its mission, depending on what happens, it may encounter some group.

For instance, there could be conflicts of various sorts among the different communities in Kabul city. There was fear of that in the early days after one section of the Northern Alliance entered the city.

So, if such a thing broke out again, and fortunately we haven’t seen such a thing in the last few weeks, then the force would be called upon to intervene to try to calm the situation. It’s possible that one group or the other would feel they were being treated unfairly.

I think the conflict will come more if the interim administration tries to call on the force or on the international community to expand its activities to other parts of the country, because this is only in Kabul and its environs.

But, clearly there’s a need for a secure assistance force in other parts of the country too, as you noted in your report. There are undoubtedly warlords and others in those sections of the country that might not like the interim administration agreeing to an international force coming in to remove them from power.

That’s something that might be coming up down the road. But the immediate tasks are within Kabul itself where I don’t see that type of opposition.

RAY SUAREZ: And Mr. Ambassador, as you just heard the professor discuss, are there enough forces… that want the opposite, that one doesn’t necessarily working to see this fail, but are actively working for this to succeed?

Putting aside the differences that for Kabul to pieces in previous civil wars and now are actively behind the success of the ISAF force.

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Yes, I think so. I think the size of the force has been very carefully calculated. At one stage some of the Afghan ministers were after a smaller force, they wanted to do a lot of this work themselves. I think a good compromise has been worked out.

Remember, we’re dealing with Kabul and its immediate surrounds, to the airport. We’re not talking about the wider territory. That remains the responsibility of the Afghans. If they want help for that in the future, they must ask the international community for that. But I think four to five thousand for this kind of security behind the Afghans in Kabul is about right.

RAY SUAREZ: And what kind of consultations will have to go onto get a wider mandate? Is it merely up to the interim government to ask this new force to widen its brief on the ground in Afghanistan?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: No. I think we must be careful not to assume that. If the Afghan interim administration wants other security duties done on other parts of Afghan territory, it will have to ask for a new force from scratch, with a new U.N. authority.

This force is not authorized to use its military power outside this immediate topographical area. They would have to start from a fresh start.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, professor, General, thank you all.