THE UNITED NATIONS is considering sending a multinational force into Afghanistan primarily to shadow the troops and commanders of the country's warlords and to monitor the actions of the Northern Alliance. However, the troops would not take any explicit role in controlling territory.
The aim, UN officials said, would be at least to give the impression that the Afghans themselves were in charge of stabilising their own land. "You do not take a command position in a situation like this," one official noted, asking not to be named. "You stand behind them and ventriloquise to a certain extent."
The UN Security Council was ready last night to adopt a new resolution giving broad but non-specific support to the deployment of foreign troops. The draft encourages governments "to support efforts to ensure the safety and security of areas of Afghanistan no longer under Taliban control".
The same resolution aims to give clear backing to the UN special envoy dealing with Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is rushing to jump-start a process leading to the creation of a two-year transitional government in Kabul. Mr Brahimi is planning to convene a first conference of delegates of the National Alliance and other exile groups by early next week, probably in the United Arab Emirates, to begin political consultations.
Any multinational force will be composed in the first instance of soldiers from Britain and the United States, because they already have troops in the region. Several other countries are expected to send reinforcements, however, including Turkey, Australia, Malaysia, France, Canada and possibly Bangladesh.
Diplomats in New York drew a contrast with the multinational force deployed in Kosovo, which aggressively advanced and secured territory. This would be a lower-profile, stop-gap operation. And it would not be a UN force, which would take too long to organise. The Afghans have made it clear they only want foreign soldiers inside their borders for a short time.
Once there, the multinational force would assume several tasks. The operation to hunt down the al-Qa'ida network and Osama bin Laden as well as the Taliban leadership is far from over. That effort would continue. At the same time, foreign troops …