US says no Afghanistan peace-keepers until war is over

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The Independent Online

America ruled out the deployment of an international peace-keeping force in Afghan-istan yesterday ­ at least until it finishes its military campaign on the ground.

US military commanders, backed by the White House, fear that a large multinational force would be a hindrance to their operations against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

The blunt American rebuff to any speedy international deployment leaves America's allies, principally Tony Blair, in an embarrassing limbo with troops on stand-by without anywhere to go. It also undermines the negotiating position of the United Nations in Bonn, where it is is trying to persuade the Northern Alliance to cede military power in Kabul to a multinational force.

Agreement on a multinational force, preferably spearheaded by troops from Islamic countries, has become a condition for a comprehensive political agreement at Bonn. The Northern Alliance, which holds power in Kabul, is unhappy about handing responsibility for security to a third force, but the other three delegations represented in Bonn have made clear they will not take part in any interim administration unless a neutral military presence can protect them.

Yesterday, the Northern Alliance appeared split on the subject of a multinational force.

The former president Burha-nuddin Rabbani said from Kabul that his interim government in the capital would permit a maximum of 200 UN peace-keepers stationed in the country, even though the foreign affairs spokesman, Abdullah Abdullah, expressed support for a multinational force the day before.

The British envoy to the talks, Robert Cooper, dissociated Britain from Mr Rabbani's stance yesterday, saying that Britain supported those who were prepared to work for peace in Afghanistan and rejected those who did not.

Russia has not sought US permission to send in troops ­ it already has a small military contingent in Kabul ­ but this presence may militate against a lasting political accord, because Russia is regarded as a supporter of Mr Rabbani.