Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Peacekeeping Chief Concerned for Provinces

NATO takes charge of security in Kabul as violence rocks the regions
By Danish Karokhel

The new head of the peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital Kabul has added his voice to calls for more international forces to be deployed in other parts of the country. Lieutenant-General Goetz Gliemeroth was speaking at the end of a week, which saw an upsurge in violence outside the capital.

In an exclusive interview for IWPR, Lt-Gen Gliemeroth - appointed commander of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, as NATO took charge of it - said on August 17 that his troops’ United Nations mandate prevented them from expanding outside Kabul.

However, Gliemeroth expressed support for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, PRTs, now being set up in other major urban centres under the auspices of the US-led coalition forces. These units are distinct from ISAF, and consist of small units of soldiers and civilian aid workers, which move into the regions to extend security and kick-start the rebuilding process.

Gliemeroth – an officer in the German army – said he had urged his own government to join the effort, “I am pressing my country – it should consider and put a lot of endeavour into establishing a PRT. Preferably, there should far more than currently.”

Three PRTs have been set up under US control in Kunduz, Gardez and Bamian. Britain has just established one in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and New Zealand is scheduled to take over the Bamian team.

Germany appears close to deciding to establish a PRT in the north-eastern province of Kunduz, and a reconnaissance team is currently looking at the options there. On August 18, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said it would be “very good” if ISAF’s UN mandate could be expanded to take in the PRTs – a move which Germany favours. But he stressed that even without the UN mandate, German troops could still be deployed in the regions.

Gliemeroth emphasised that ISAF could offer the PRTs help only with “assessment and advice”, but he had no doubts about the need for them, despite controversy over whether they blur the line between humanitarian aid and military action.

“A lot has been done if we look at the building of the Afghan army,” he said. “The training of police, however: most of this happens in Kabul and it is important to get these activities into provinces… it is an important step to expand PRTs.”

While the security situation in Kabul is gradually improving because of ISAF’s presence, much of the country is still lawless, clashes are frequent and civilians are in danger either from the Taleban and al-Qaeda forces in the south or from militia forces serving commanders only nominally subordinate to the central government.

Last week, at least 60 people died in violence around the country, at least 15 of them when a bomb destroyed a bus in Helmand province.

NATO formally appointed Gliemeroth as ISAF commander on August 11, in its first expansion outside Europe in its 54-year history. Although nine out of ten soldiers serving in the 5,500-strong force come from alliance members, leadership of the peacekeepers previously rotated between contributing countries. The general said ensuring continuity was the main reason why NATO had taken charge.

There have been frequent calls for the relative security in the capital to be replicated elsewhere, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has mooted the idea of expanding ISAF’s mission.

Gliemeroth told IWPR that although he had no power to change ISAF’s present role, a wider “political discussion” had begun on the terms of the UN mandate.

On August 13, UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council that a few thousand more troops were needed to provide security for the continuing political process. "If, as I feel, the [Security] Council now agrees with me that it's politically correct, then we can decide whether we need 8,000, or 9,000, or 13,000, but it's certainly not in the scores of thousands that we're talking about," he told reporters afterwards.

For the moment, Gliemeroth sees the biggest challenge facing ISAF as ensuring security for a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, at which a new constitution is to be approved in October, and for general elections that are supposed to follow in June next year.

Progress with the disarmament and demobilisation programme – crucial to peaceful political development – was “very urgent”, said Gliemeroth, although he added that this would be run by the Afghan government with ISAF playing only an advisory role.

Some Afghans have criticised the limited role ISAF has been able to play, as local strongmen in some parts of Kabul still extort money and threaten anyone who expresses independent political views.

Gliemeroth admitted that there are still “far too many militia forces” in the capital, although he said there were currently no real clashes between them.

He dismissed out of hand rumours that elements of the Afghan security services sometimes perpetrated violence themselves. ISAF’s relationship with the authorities in Kabul was one of “mutual trust and confidence”, he stressed.

He said that when larger-scale attacks took place in the capital, this involved outsiders “coming into the environment of Kabul to execute terrorist acts to unsettle things – the Taleban, al-Qaeda and other actors”.

ISAF itself came under attack in June, when four German soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber.

The German general acknowledged that Kabul was a “difficult environment”, but said his troops were ordered to be “helpful and respectful”.

When IWPR visited the heavily-guarded ISAF headquarters, there was construction work in evidence, suggesting that the troops will not be moving on soon.

Asked for a time frame, Gliemeroth emphasised that the peacekeepers would not be staying on indefinitely, but would remain until there was an “adequate, minimum, secure environment” to ensure a more prosperous future.

He said that the NATO’s secretary-general, Lord George Robertson, had recently estimated that this could take three or four years, “Though I’m sure, like me, he feels that if it’s done tomorrow it stops automatically...the shorter [the] time ISAF is here, the better.”

Danesh Karokhel is an IWPR editor/reporter in Kabul.