UK forces join locals on patrol in Kabul

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The Independent Online

British troops held a joint patrol with local security forces through the centre of Kabul yesterday in a taste of what is almost certain to become a regular, if controversial, sight in Afghanistan.

The brief patrol, involving 15 Royal Marines and nine armed police officers from the Afghan interior ministry, was essentially a dress rehearsal for the international security force due to arrive early in the new year. Negotiations are still in train as to the role that the British-led International Security Assistance Force of around 3,000 soldiers will play in Afghanistan.

"This is the first multinational security operation," said Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel Richard Spencer as his patrol moved down a street lined with carpet sellers. "It's all about reassurance and presence."

The presence of the foreign force is already a controversial issue, with elements of Afghanistan's new interim government expressing strong reservations about its deployment. Local people, somewhat bemused by the soldiers, feel they have a definite role.

"We don't really need soldiers patrolling the streets because it is not that unsafe now, but they are needed along the highways and in the provinces," said Mir Alam, 35, a soldier for the Northern Alliance, which ousted the Taliban. "It would be better for them to be outside Kabul or co-operating with internal forces in disarming civilians."

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, US soldiers are interrogating captured Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters. A further 63 were brought to the makeshift prison camp at Kandahar's airport late on Friday evening, bringing the total to 125. Almost 30 in the latest batch had suffered combat wounds.

The detention facility at the airport can hold up to 250 people, but with the number of detainees steadily growing there has been talk in recent days of moving them to a larger facility. The US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has emerged as the leading choice.

Meanwhile, in what would represent another sign of Afghanistan's transformation to a more peaceful country, the government said it hoped to rebuild the Buddha statues at Bamian soon. Several countries had already expressed interest in helping with the reconstruction project, a minister said.

The statues – hewn from solid rock in the third and fifth centuries and standing up to 50m (150ft) high – were dynamited and completely destroyed by the Taliban regime, which considered them idolatrous.