British soldiers finally go on patrol in Kabul

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The Independent Online

The Afghans finally appeared for their first joint patrol with British paratroopers yesterday – after failing to turn up on two previous occasions – inaugurating the long-awaited and symbolic presence of multinational peace-keepers.

The Afghans finally appeared for their first joint patrol with British paratroopers yesterday – after failing to turn up on two previous occasions – inaugurating the long-awaited and symbolic presence of multinational peace-keepers.

While there were hardly any foreign troops in Kabul less than a week ago, there are now more than a thousand. But, thanks to the realpolitik of deployment, they are almost all out of sight so as not to offend the local leaders and warlords.

On patrol yesterday, the 16 British paratroops and Afghan policemen who went around the block were outnumbered by journalists. But at least a start has been made after days of negotiations around the Military Technical Agreement.

The paratroops are part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and their job will be not only to reassure the Pashtun and Hazara ethnic minorities in the capital, where Tajiks from the Northern Alliance now have the upper hand, but to help disarm the heavily armed population.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said yesterday that 300 army and Royal Air Force personnel would be sent to Kabul to rebuild and operate the city airport. Mr Hoon confirmed that Britain's leadership of the ISAF would only last for three months. He said the ISAF, whose remit is limited to Kabul and its vicinity, would reach its full strength of 5,000 by the middle of next month.

Two Afghans, Behruz Alipur, 13, and Mohammed Yahua, 12, had walked 3km to see the paratroops. Behruz said: "We are very glad they are here. My father and mother hope they will stay here a very long time."

Not everyone agrees. Finishing his first joint patrol, an Afghan policeman, Mohammed Azim, said: "No one wants to see a foreign force patrolling the streets of their capital, so the sooner they do their job, the sooner they can go."

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