Great Britain has agreed to lead the force, which the Security Council today gave a six-month mandate to help provide security in the war-torn country.
Afghanistan’s interim government, headed by tribal leader Hamid Karzai, is scheduled to take power Saturday. Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, said the British government was “ready to go.”
“The Security Council has helped Afghanistan take the first step,” Greenstock said, and has provided “some new hope for what has been a pretty miserable life for Afghans over the last few years.”
The first batch of British troops deployed to participate in the force landed in Afghanistan today. Fifty-three British Royal Marines flew into Bagram Airbase north of Kabul. They will begin their mission by accompanying officials heading to Saturday’s ceremonies, the company commander said.
“We are here to start providing security and assistance,” Major Matt Jones told Reuters. “We will be assisting with the running and providing a presence at the inauguration of the interim government.”
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons yesterday Britain will provide 1,500 troops for the force, which is expected to include between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.
The deployment order cleared a final political hurdle today when Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s interim foreign minister, sent a letter to the Security Council agreeing to dispatch the troops under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which allows the multi-national force to take military action if necessary.
Abdullah had previously opposed such a move, asking in a letter last Friday to deploy the team under Chapter VI, which does not allow military force to be used.
Britain and other countries had made clear they would not participate in the mission unless they had an order sanctioning the use of military power.
Karzai yesterday told the Associated Press the peacekeeping force would be welcome to stay “as long as it takes for Afghan stability.”
But Mohammed Fahim, the country’s interim defense minister, said the peacekeepers’ role would be largely symbolic.
“They are here because they want to be,” Fahim told the Associated Press, “but their presence is as a symbol. The security is the responsibility of the Afghans.”
Responding to Fahim’s statement, Greenstock told the AP Britain will work to “coordinate with the Afghans… We’ve got the authority to look after ourselves and to preserve the mandate, but the objective … [is] to assist the interim authority in maintaining security.”