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UK troops ready for Afghan role

Blair has called for the U.N. to oversee the creation of a post-Taliban government  

LONDON, England -- Thousands of British troops have been put on 48-hour stand-by for possible duty in Kabul and other newly-captured cities in Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons the troops would be involved in the humanitarian effort but did not rule out them also being involved in offensive operations.

He did not go into details about possible operations except to say some could be used to secure airports and support the U.N. in Afghanistan.

He added: "We cannot of course rule out some of the troops being used on the front line."

Attempts would be made to secure a corridor between the country and its northern neighbours to help in the distribution of food and aid to the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have fled their homes as a result of war and hunger.

CNN's Robin Oakley: Filling the vacuum left in Kabul and other cities
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Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, on a post Taliban government in Afghanistan (November 13)

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Blair said the Taliban regime was in "total collapse" and not retreat.

"Though there may be pockets of resistance, the idea that this has been some kind of tactical retreat is just the latest Taliban lie. They are in total collapse."

He called on the rest of Afghanistan -- particularly the ethnic groups in the south -- to join the uprising against the Taliban and "throw off their oppressive rule."

"The sooner they act, the greater the benefit."

He also said Britain would have a diplomatic presence in Kabul by the weekend.

The Ministry of Defence had earlier said the troops will monitor the Afghan capital and Mazar-e Sharif, and will work separately from the 4,200 British personnel, mostly naval and support units, already involved in the war in Afghanistan.

A ministry spokesman told the UK Press Association: "They are not an aggressive force. They will act as a stabilising force to assist the U.N. in allowing the transition to a new government.

"They will give the locals confidence and create the right conditions to allow the humanitarian agencies to do their work."

The British soldiers will include units from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 3 Commando Brigade, 16 Air Assault Brigade and 45 Commando Royal Marines.

Blair has called on the U.N. to enter Kabul as soon as possible to help fill the power vacuum left by the fleeing Taliban.

A draft U.N. Security Council resolution circulated by Britain on Tuesday called for the United Nations to play a "central role" in the formation of a transitional Afghan government, The Associated Press reports.

The proposed resolution "encourages member states to support efforts to ensure the safety and security of areas of Afghanistan no longer under Taliban control, and in particular to ensure respect for Kabul as the capital for all the Afghan people."

Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, has ruled out a U.N. peacekeeping force because it would take several months to put together.

He said at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday that his first preference would be an all-Afghan security force, but a multinational security force could probably be assembled more quickly.


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