Britain to Lead Afghan Peacekeeping Force

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons that Britain would send 1,500 troops as part of a 3,000 to 5,000-strong international force.

Hoon said the force would assist Afghanistan’s interim government, set to take power Saturday, to provide security throughout the country.

“The International Security Assistance Force is a vital part of the international community’s efforts to assist the Afghan people in this early and difficult period of the reconstruction of their country,” Hoon said.

Junior Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw said the force would remain in Afghanistan as long as the interim government, led by Hamid Karzai, wants it to stay.

“As long as the new Afghan interim authority believes that it’s necessary to have some kind of support there, that support will be there,” Bradshaw told Reuters.

Karzai told the Associated Press the peacekeeping force would be welcome to stay “as long as it takes for Afghan stability.”

As many as 200 British troops will arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, “by the weekend,” Bradshaw said.

The rest of the force is expected to head to Afghanistan as early as Dec. 28, Hoon said, although officials are still working out the multi-national body’s composition. Officials say the move needs United Nations approval, which could come as early as tomorrow.

Hoon said Britain would oversee the mission for at least three months.

Earlier today, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain would formally resume its diplomatic relations with Afghanistan when the interim government takes power Saturday. The move comes after a 12-year lull in official communications between the two countries.

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