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U.N., new Afghan government in accord on peacekeepers

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The United Nations and Afghanistan's interim government have reached an agreement on the role of a peacekeeping contingent, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said Sunday.

The contingent initially would be deployed in the capital, Kabul, but also would be present in other Afghan cities, said Abdullah, who did not provide further details.

The peacekeepers would be allowed to use force under a U.N. mandate.

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The first peacekeepers arrived in Afghanistan before the December 22 inauguration of the new government and before the two sides had agreed on the contingent's numbers and duties.

Commenting on the military campaign, Abdullah said U.S. bombing should continue until it has routed the Taliban and al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden whom Abdullah said was still in Afghanistan. His statement contradicted an earlier one by a Defense Ministry spokesman, who said bin Laden was believed to be in Pakistan.

U.S. Special Forces and Afghan troops continued their search for bin Laden in Afghanistan's mountainous Tora Bora region over the weekend, while 14 more al Qaeda and Taliban members were detained in Kandahar for questioning about the al Qaeda leader's location.

The recent detainees bring the total to 139 al Qaeda and Taliban held by Marines at Kandahar International Airport. They also are being questioned about their involvement in terrorist activities.

The Marines said the detention center is at about one-third capacity. Other sources said anti-Taliban forces may detain as many as 3,000 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters at other places around the country.

The Pentagon is considering where to take detainees once the detention center is full. The U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been mentioned as a possibility, but that facility is unlikely to be ready for several weeks.

The Army's 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is scheduled to take control of the Kandahar airport base sometime in January, but the Defense Department has issued no official word on the turnover, sources said.

Advance Army troops have started arriving at the airport to begin preparations for the handover. The airport is expected to handle the arrival of humanitarian aid and possibly peacekeeping forces.

Advance teams for the United Nations have visited the airport to assess the potential for humanitarian aid delivery.

The U.S. military said the area around the airport remains "too dangerous" for daytime flights. By and large, aircraft only fly at night: Thirty-four flights landed overnight Saturday.

A CH-53 Super Stallion Marine helicopter experienced a "hard landing" late Saturday on a mission northwest of Kandahar, said Pentagon spokesman Dave Lapan. The chopper damaged its nose wheel, and U.S. Marine maintenance specialists are evaluating the aircraft and determining whether it can be repaired and flown back to the base, Lapan said.

The four crew members on board were recovered and flown back to Kandahar, he said, adding that there were no injuries.

The Pentagon said it does not know whether weather, the terrain or something else caused the problem.

The helicopter has been a workhorse for the Marines, first at Camp Rhino and now at the airport.

CNN Correspondents Bill Hemmer and Kathleen Koch contributed to this report




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