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Britain May Yield Peacekeeper Role

January 10, 2002

LONDON (AP) _ Britain said Thursday it would lead an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan for only the first three months, with Turkey a candidate to take over the role.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said there would be a ``significant reduction″ in Britain’s initial contribution of up to 1,800 troops to the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force after three months.

Hoon said the force would be built up over the next few weeks and would be at full strength by mid-February.

It will operate only in Kabul and carry out joint patrols with Afghan police as well as assisting the interim government in reconstruction, developing security structures and training local security forces. Advance British troops have already been in the capital for two weeks while French troops began patrols yesterday.

As leader of the force, Britain is contributing as many as 1,800 troops, plus 300 Army and Royal Air Force personnel repairing and operating Bagram airport. But Hoon said Britain is already withdrawing its 40 Commando Royal Marines who helped secure the airstrip.

``Our commitment as lead nation is limited in duration. The mandate is for six months. We shall hand over our lead nation status to one of our partners over three. I am pleased that Turkey has already expressed an interest in this,″ Hoon said.

But he stressed that Britain’s commitment to the force would not end entirely at that point.

``Certainly we would expect to see a significant reduction in the number of British troops deployed, but we will not ignore the need to give continuing support to whoever takes over as lead nation.″

The force will be made up of troops from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

However, Hoon said, he has been unable to accept Canada’s ``generous″ offer of an infantry battle group.

``In the end the Canadians decided to deploy their troops elsewhere, to Kandahar, to support continuing offensive operations in that region,″ he said.

Defense attaches and ambassadors of the participating nations signed a memorandum of understanding at the Ministry of Defense Thursday evening.

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