Wall Street Journal
August 12, 2003 - pg. A10

NATO Takes On
Peacekeeper Role
In Afghanistan

Group Is Urged to Expand
Patrol to Lawless Provinces
As Crucial Transition Looms


    KABUL, Afghanistan—With violence and instability pervading Afghanistan, the West is coming under growing pressure to commit more troops to secure the country for reconstruction and coming elections.
    The North Atlantic Treaty Organization took over the command of the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force, which has focused on keeping Kabul, the capital, from slipping into the lawlessness that plagues much of the rest of Afghanistan. Besides the mostly European and Canadian ISAF, the U.S. has some 9,000 troops stationed elsewhere in the country, mostly to fight the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, which still mount sporadic attacks.
    As President Hamid Karzai struggles to keep the country whole and diminish the influence of powerful provincial governors and warlords, a wide array of voices—including the United Nations, aid organizations, some military commanders on the ground and the Afghan government itself—are calling for an expansion of peacekeeping operations.
    At a ceremony held in a heavily guarded school gymnasium here, Mr. Karzai welcomed NATO's decision to take over the peacekeeping operations in Kabul but said villagers often ask his emissaries, as they travel around the country, whether "they could also have ISAF in the provinces." In a report published last month, the New York-based Human Rights Watch appealed to NATO to venture beyond the Kabul perimeter "as soon as possible." The 100-page document, "Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing for Us," catalogs widespread human-rights abuses in southeastern Afghanistan.
    The situation is urgent in part because Afghanistan's precarious nation-building process is entering a critical phase: the adoption of a new constitution this year and 2004 national elections, set to replace the current provisional administration with a more permanent and representative form of government. Both events could intensify the power struggle among various elements vying for authority in the new Afghanistan.
    The Kabul peacekeeping force was created together with the current interim administration shortly after the U.S. drove the Taliban from power in December 2001, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Kabul's refusal to turn over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Over the past two years, several countries, including Britain, Turkey and Germany, have taken turns at the helm of ISAF, a juggling act that has made planning more difficult.
    NATO officials refrain from making promises about expanding the force beyond Kabul. First, they want to consolidate their grip on the capital. Four German soldiers were killed there in June by a bomb detonated next to their bus. These days, ISAF soldiers cruise Kabul in armored personnel carriers with gunners training their weapons on the side of the road. Officers here say most of the Kabul residents welcome the peacekeepers, but a persistent terrorist threat remains.
    There is also the practical problem of where troops for an expansion—10,000 by some estimates—would come from. NATO is helping support peacekeeping operations in Iraq, with several European countries contributing troops. At some point, the alliance is likely to mull a possible expansion of its role there, too, which could pit troop demands for Afghanistan and Iraq against each other.
    Meanwhile, the U.S. and Britain, whose role in Afghanistan is mostly geared to fighting terrorism, are helping fill the security vacuum in the provinces with small groups of soldiers and civilians called Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Alessandro Munuto Rizzo, NATO's deputy secretary-general, said the alliance is beginning to think about how it could help secure the rest of Afghanistan without massive troop outlays. One option is sending soldier to selected areas; another is increasing the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
    The West hopes ultimately to transfer the bulk of peacekeeping duties to Afghanistan's nascent national army and police, now in training with Western advisors.