Turkey may take over Afghan role
LONDON, England -- Britain will lead the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan for only the first three months, UK defence minister Geoff Hoon has said.
Hoon said Turkey was a candidate to take over the role and that there would be a "significant reduction" in Britain's initial contribution of 1,800 troops to the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force after three months.
He said the force, which will be made of troops from 18 nations, would be built up over the next few weeks and would be at full strength by mid-February.
It will only operate in Kabul, carrying out joint patrols with Afghan police and helping the interim government in reconstruction, developing security structures and training local security forces.
An advance party of UK troops have been in the capital for two weeks while French troops began patrols on Wednesday.
Britain is contributing up to 1,800 troops, plus 300 Army and Royal Air Force personnel repairing and operating Bagram airport, north of Kabul.
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.
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