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First UK peace troops land in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Seventy British marines have arrived at Bagram Air Base to help set up and lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan as an interim government prepares to assume power this weekend.

The deployment of the British soldiers was being made as U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution authorising a multinational force.

British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon said on Wednesday the force of about 1,500 British troops will initially provide security in the Kabul area and were likely to stay in Afghanistan for about three months.

The marine contingent which arrived on Thursday night was on a British ship in the Arabian Sea. They were transported by helicopter to an undisclosed Mideast country, and then made the six-hour trip to Bagram, north of Kabul.

The first troops belonging to a multinational peacekeeping force arrived in Afghanistan. CNN's John Vause reports (December 21)

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These forces will provide a presence at the installation of the interim Afghan government, which is to take power on Saturday.

Their commanders said they are alert to the fact that many Afghans are sensitive to foreign troops, and they say they will try to maintain a low-profile.

A number of other countries will also contribute to the force which could grow to as many as 6,000 troops.

The force will be under the command of British General John McColl, who has been in Kabul negotiating the terms under which it will operate. Sixteen nations are prepared to provide troops.

"We are very pleased that the United Kingdom will, for this first period of the force, be the lead nation," said Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations.

"We have had several offers from other members of the U.N. to join in that force on the terms that we are now setting down in the U.N. Security Council."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been the major backer for the new force, insisting that the allies cannot be content with a military victory against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and that they have a duty to rebuild Afghanistan in a way that will not allow it to become a nest of terrorism once again.

"The peacekeeping or security force in Kabul is vital in allowing the provisional government to exist, to prosper and to start putting Afghanistan back on its feet," Blair told British members of parliament on Wednesday.

"If the international community walks away from Afghanistan now, it will make exactly the same mistake that the West made 10 or 12 years ago, when it left Afghanistan to become as it did -- a failed state."

The peacekeepers will be charged with securing the nation's roads, and protecting the interim government.

The stabilisation force will be deployed in five major cities -- Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat.


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