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Europe

Who Will Keep the Peace, and When?

This Saturday, Afghanistan's interim government will take power, with or without the United Nations peacekeeping force guaranteed to protect its security

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UN food convoys cross the border into Afghanistan. Could UN soldiers be far behind?

The United Nations peacekeeping force is facing conflict, doubt and disagreement. And it hasn’t even set foot in Afghanistan.

Four days before an interim government will take power in the embattled country, the size and mandate of the UN force that's supposed to guarantee its security is still very much in doubt. A planned vote on the force by the UN security council, scheduled for Tuesday, will most likely be pushed back further in the week.

Disputes between the United States, England and Germany, over the leadership of the force seems to be the main hang-up.

London-Berlin dispute

German politicians said earlier this week that English leadership of the force, estimated to be about 5,000 soldiers strong, would be impossible given their participation in the war against Afghanistan and their colonial history in the region.

"They would be looked at as occupiers, and that would endanger the UN mission," Hans-Ulrich Klose, foreign affairs expert for the Social Democratic Party, told Germany’s Phoenix television Tuesday morning.

But England is the choice of the United States, given their military capabilities and experience in leading such forces. The English have also said they will work in tandem with US Central Command, currently directing the war against the Taliban.

US General Tommy Franks has said in the past that any UN force should report to the United States, so as not to endanger the current military campaign against the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said on Monday that was impossible.

"There has to be a formal separation," he told reporters. "That is our position and the position of most of our partners."

German capabilities

Germany, which decided Tuesday it would be able to send between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers to take part in the UN force, has said it is incapable of handling the leadership reigns. Some German military experts wonder if it will be able to take part at all.

The Bundeswehr, already stretched on financing, is spread out in different missions in the Balkans. Mobilizing German soldiers for a larger foreign deployment, like Afghanistan, would be an enormous and perhaps impossible undertaking, said the former commander of NATO forces in Kosovo, Klaus Reinhardt.

"If we were to surpass," the deployment size "we’ve had until now, we would simply missing the technical capabilities needed," he said in Deutschlandradio Monday.

Weak peacekeepers, strong peackeepers

Still at issue are demands by the Afghans that the size and scope of the force be limited. With a complicated and troubled history of foreign occupation behind them, the Afghan leadership has wanted the UN presence to be as discreet as possible. They have asked that the force number in the hundreds and have limited capabilities.

Though the UN is eager to accomodate Afghan requests, the U.S., Germany and England have rejected the notion that the UN force remain a hidden presence.

The head of the Christian Democratic Union’s parliamentary group, Michael Glos, said on Tuesday that the German government is awaiting a "robust" mandate from the United Nations.

"We will not send our soldiers into a situation with an incalucable risk," he said.

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