US may expand peace force beyond Kabul
* NATO takes over peacekeeping duties
BRUSSELS: The United States is ready to examine calls to expand the mandate of NATO-led peacekeepers in Afghanistan beyond Kabul, US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said on Monday.
“This idea will need to be considered seriously once NATO has settled into its role in Kabul,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal as the alliance took over command of Afghanistan’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Mr Burns said one option would be for NATO to participate in US-led ‘Provincial Reconstruction Teams’ which are already active in trying to enforce security outside Kabul.
While Kabul remains relatively secure, a guerrilla insurgency by suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda militants has intensified in southern and southeastern Afghanistan.
There have been repeated calls by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations for ISAF to deploy to the unruly provinces. But NATO spokesman Mark Laity stressed on Sunday that for the time being the 19-nation alliance would stick to ISAF’s Kabul-oriented mandate.
“We are not changing ISAF. We are here under the same mission, the same mandate and the same banner,” Mr Laity told reporters. However, he admitted that NATO would be forced to discuss expansion.
At a ceremony in Kabul to mark NATO’s takeover of peacekeeping duties, German Defence Minister Peter Struck said NATO’s job was to ensure Afghanistan did not become a safe haven for terrorism again.
“There is still a lot to be done,” he said. “Afghanistan must not lapse back into anarchy or chaos. Afghanistan must not again become the home of global terror as was the case under the rule of the Taliban.” —AFP/Reuters