Britain Scales Down Afghan Troop Expectations
By Paul Majendie
Friday November 23, 2001 - 9:40 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - With the situation now stabilizing in Kabul, Britain is unlikely to send thousands of troops into Afghanistan, defense officials said on Friday.
Britain has 6,400 troops on 48-hour notice to fly out to the war-ravaged country, but one official said: "Almost certainly nothing like that number will be deployed."
"It is far from clear if there is a role for any traditional forces in Afghanistan," he added.
Last Friday, Britain sent an advance party of 85 Royal Marines into Bagram airbase, north of the Afghan capital Kabul, and expectations were high that a much larger force would soon follow.
But the Northern Alliance expressed opposition to their deployment and its deputy chief of intelligence, Engineer Arif, said it was decided at a meeting of Alliance leaders that all but 15 of the 85-strong British advance party should be withdrawn.
They have since been placated in talks and the official said: "The situation has to a certain extent stabilized at Bagram."
The defense official, briefing reporters on the fast-changing scenario in Afghanistan, said of the Bagram deployment: "The first few hours or so are potentially dangerous until people get to talk. But the initial confusions have been got over."
MARINES HAVE VITAL ROLE
And he said the Marines had a crucial role to play at Bagram: "The requirement to get ground truth is vital. It is very much linked into American command," he said. "They (the British commandos) are comfortable with their current circumstances."
He said Bagram was strategically important as the only airport in the Kabul area in working order. "It is now in fairly constant use," he said.
Fears that the humanitarian situation would rapidly deteriorate have also proved unfounded, he said, adding: "It is no different to what it has been over the last five years."
Relief agencies are calling for the immediate deployment of an international stabilization force in Afghanistan.
They say the collapse of the Taliban has not eradicated pockets of fighting, banditry and looting that have virtually halted food deliveries to up to 7.5 million people dependent on relief as winter draws in.
Talk of massive foreign intervention was initially sparked by fears that the Afghan capital could fall prey to anarchy in the political vacuum created after the fall of the Taliban government there.
"But there have been no large-scale massacres as feared," another defense official said.
He said the Northern Alliance realized its political reputation in any future Afghan government depends on how it handles itself after achieving military victory. "The world is watching," the official said.
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