You Are nor Welcome

By Hickley, Matthew | Daily Mail (London), December 21, 2001 | Go to article overview

You Are nor Welcome


Hickley, Matthew, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: MATTHEW HICKLEY

THE outlook for a UK-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan looked increasingly dangerous yesterday as Afghan officials issued disturbing threats against British soldiers.

As a further batch of 53 Royal Marines flew into Bagram bringing the total UK troop presence at the base to 200, advisers to Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani said they were not welcome.

They would face hostility because of British military interference in Afghanistan dating back to the 19th century, the officials warned.

'The weapons with which our grandfathers fought against the British are still oiled,' declared Hashmatullah Moslih.

The extraordinary threats came as the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a mandate giving legal backing to the peace mission, called the International Security Assistance Force.

The vote, in New York, cleared the way for Britain to lead the operation and to use force if necessary. It made no mention of the size of the force, which remains the subject of serious disagreements between the UK-led allies and Afghan officials.

But it makes clear that the situation in Afghanistan 'still constitutes a threat to international peace and security'.

Major Matt Jones, leading the advance group of Marines, said his men would provide a low-profile presence, and were in good spirits as they embarked on the delicate task.

'I would say it is mature enthusiasm,' he said. 'We've got an important job to do.' The troops, from B company 40 Commando, have been waiting for the call on board HMS Fearless in the Arabian Sea for almost two months.

Among their duties will be escorting Afghan officials and overseas VIPs at the ceremony in Kabul tomorrow when the new interim government of Hamid Karzai will be sworn in.

The bulk of the ISAF will not arrive for a week or more, but there were growing signs that the reception would be hostile.

Incoming Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim highlighted major differences between his view of the international force and that of the contributing nations.

He said the force would be largely 'symbolic', with no right to disarm anyone, and repeated his claim that only 1,000 peacekeepers should operate within Kabul - far fewer than the

Western powers want to send.

'They are here because they want to be,' Mr Fahim said. 'But their presence is as a symbol. Security is the responsibility of Afghans.' Other officials claimed British troops would not be welcome on the streets at all.

Moslih, a senior aide to President Rabbani, claimed Afghans were hostile to the presence of British troops because of the UK's past attempts to invade, even though those episodes took place well over a century ago.

He said the Germans should take the lead because they were 'historically popular in Afghanistan' and had hosted the crucial peace talks in Bonn last month.

He said French troops were also welcome, but added: 'The British should confine themselves to logistical support if they come.' Germany has indicated it is not ready to lead the mission and has even threatened to withdraw its troops due to Britain's insistence that the U.S. should have overall military command.

The Ministry of Defence has drawn up detailed plans for a UKled peace mission, codenamed Operation Fingal, which would see troops patrolling Kabul in support of Afghan police.

They will carry only light weapons, travel in ordinary rather than armoured vehicles and wear berets rather than helmets - adopting what military planners call a 'soft' profile, reflecting their task of reassuring locals instead of threatening them. Tony Blair offered a rallying cry to the British servicemen yesterday, saying they would be helping fight the war against terror and drugs at home.

'It is hugely in this country's interests that we get Afghanistan back on its feet, not a failing state, and not supplying 90 per cent of the heroin on British streets,' he told British Forces Broadcasting Service Radio. …

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