Britain says first troops could reach Afghanistan by weekend

Tuesday, December 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ The first British peacekeeping troops could be in Afghanistan in time for the inauguration of the country's interim government on Saturday, the British defense secretary said Tuesday.

A small team of British troops would arrive first and the bulk of the force later, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said. He said the size of the force was still not determined, though Britain is expected to provide up to 1,500 troops.

``I certainly don't anticipate that the full force could be there by the weekend, but equally I would have thought that it is not unrealistic to think about at least some elements of the force arriving by December 22,'' Hoon told BBC radio.

That is the date when the interim government headed by Hamid Karzai takes office to govern for six months until steps are taken toward a permanent constitution. The international force is aimed at keeping security during that period.

Hoon said the British deployment would be a ``time-limited operation ... we are talking a small number of months rather than an open-ended commitment.''

Other nations that may participate in a security force include Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Turkey and members of the European Union.

Britain has been trying to work out how the force will operate and how it will interact with the American force already in Afghanistan.

They also want to secure Afghan approval.

``There is still a great deal of work to be done before we can say precisely the size of the security assistance force and of course how much contribution Britain will be able to make,'' Hoon said.