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Ironing Out a Peacekeeping Mission

United Nations to decide on possibilty of UN mission in Afghanistan. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has offered troops to a UN mission in Afghanistan, but some say the army is already stretched too thin

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German and French troops gained experience maintaining peace in the Balkans.

The promise, it seems, may have been made a bit too hastily.

A day after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offered German soldiers for a potential post-Taliban peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, the head of country's armed forces association said it was an offer Schröder couldn't fulfill.

"Theoretically, all possible German troops are otherwise occupied at the moment," Bernhard Gertz told the Nordwest Zeitung in Oldenburg.

Gertz said that between missions in Macedonia, Kosovo and a planned mission in Afghanistan, only 600 soldiers are available for deployment at the moment.

The news comes as the United Nations security council mulls whether or not to make Afghanistan its 16th current peackeeping mission in the world. If approved, diplomats and UN officials hope the mission will begin around the time the newly-assembled Afghan coalition takes power in Kabul on Dec. 22.

Peacekeeping troops were intially rejected by members of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban forces, who insisted Afghanistan's problems required a "100 percent Afghan solution."

But that sentiment changed by the end of the conference in Bonn on Wednesday. Representatives of the Afghan delegation announced they would support UN peacekeepers to help stabilize and protect the new government in Kabul.

The UN security council still has to ratify the mission, which diplomats said would most likely start in Kabul and then spread to other Afghan regions. In order for the mission to be ratified, security council members will have to convince the United States, which has said it is against any peacekeeping operation until the Taliban is completely moved from power.

But the UN is already planning in advance of that ratification. A UN inspection team is to head to Kabul in the coming days and will report back on the feasibility of the peacekeeping operation.

Germany offers troops

Though the makeup of the force has not been determined, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was the first to offer troops for the UN mission. Schröder made the announcement shortly before boarding a helicopter after the successful conclusion of the Bonn talks.

"Germany, in the case of a request, cannot and will not turn a deaf ear," said Schröder.

The deployment would be the third peacekeeping mission in which Germany has taken part in the last decade. In 1992, German troops were part of a UN mission in Somalia. In 1995, 4,000 German soldiers became part of a NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where they are still active. And earlier this year, German troops were sent to Macedonia to help gather weapons in NATO's "Essential Harvest" operation.

Schröder's coalition partner, the Green party, which already agreed to sending German soldiers to Afghanistan, will most likely support the peacekeeping operation.

"If it's up to us, it will be hard to say no," said the chair of the Green's parliamentary faction, Kerstin Müller.

UN diplomats are speculating that several Islamic countries will also be invited to send troops. Turkey has been mentioned as a likely partner for leading the mission, and Indonesia and Jordan were also said to be likely to send troops.

Peacekeeping force a "catastrophe"?

But the effectiveness of such a force is still in question, according to at least one Afghanistan expert.

Paul Bucherer, an internationally renowed Afghanistan expert who heads the Afghanistan Archiv in Switzerland, told Agence France Presse that an "armed UN presence would be a catastrophe."

Traumatized by years of British colonial and then Soviet occupation, some representatives of the Afghan delegation said they feared that by bringing foreign troops into Afghanistan, the country will remain a pawn of international forces. Bucherer echoed the sentiment, saying the Afghans possessed a "great will of independence."

UN troops would have to strike a balance between performing their duties and keeping a low profile, Bucherer said.

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