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Germany

Britain Will Head Afghanistan Peacekeeping Mission

Germany could commit 1,000 soldiers to the multinational force, but the mandate is still in question

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UN peacekeepers, like these in Bosnia, will soon appear in Afghanistan. What they'll do when they get there is the big question.

After a meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday evening, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said Germany would not lead the United Nations peackeeping forces slated to begin working in Afghanistan later this month.

That role would most likely be taken by the U.K., which will command a force of thousands of peacekeepers from France, Germany, Jordan, Turkey, Italy and Canada. The United Nations hopes to authorize the mission before the end of the week.

Still in question is the mandate of the UN force. The Petersburg Agreement, signed last week, calls for a force that would ensure security of the interim government in Kabul. The force's reach could then extend to other urban areas.

The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, wary of a foreign military presence on Afghan soil, said Monday that they wanted to limit the size and role of the UN peacekeepers. They have called for hundreds of UN soldiers. The UN, on the other hand, is planning for a deployment of about 5,000.

Cooperation between US and UN

Their concerns seem to have taken a back seat to a minor dispute between the United States and members of the potential peacekeeping force. The U.S. has been against deployment of a peackeeping force while their mliitary campaign and hunt for Osama bin Laden is still ongoing.

In order not to endanger their campaign, General Tommy Franks, who is commanding the US military action, wants the peacekeeping force to report to him. Potential members of the force disagree.

"There must be a clear spearation between the current deployment against the Taliban and UN troops to support the accord," said Schröder.

Germany's role in the mission

Powell agreed with Schröder, saying the "two completely different missions" need to be separated, but with some coordination.

The two met before Powell headed off to meet with officials in England. Among the main reasons for the meeting was to discuss whether Germany had the capacity to lead the UN mission.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, who initially spoke out against German involvement in the mission, said on Sunday that the military didn't have the capabilities needed to plan an Afghanistan UN operation.

The question remains how many soldiers the country is willing to commit. There have been reports that officials are willing to offer as many 1,000 troops, something military experts have said is logistically impossible. The German military, already small, is currently spread thin between missions in Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia.

Angelika Beer, the military expert of the Green Party, Schröder's coalition partner, also warned against the desire to pull troops out of Kosovo to put in Afghanistan.

"This would have a fatal effect on the peace in Kosovo," she said on German television Tuesday morning.

Any new mission would also have to be approved by the Bundestag, the German parliament, which goes on winter holiday next week. But government officials said a special session is also possible.