Britain To Lead Mission, Contribute Up To 1,500 Peacekeepers

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

London ( - Britain will lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan and contribute about 1,000 to 1,500 troops to the effort, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday.

Blair stressed that the numbers were tentative and that officials were waiting for a U.N. Security Council resolution and the result of talks between British and Afghan military leaders before deciding on a final figure.

"There is an urgent need to ensure that, as the war is being won, we play our part in securing the peace," the prime minister told the House of Commons.

A British military liaison has traveled to Kabul for meetings with the country's interim government about the size and role of a peacekeeping force. Maj. Gen. John McColl, who headed the contingent, will report back to government ministers before a final decision is taken.

A U.N. resolution creating a mandate for peacekeepers is expected later this week. Blair said troop contributions were being considered by the United States and European Union members along with Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Malaysia and Turkey.

The prime minister said it was important that the current military operation to root out Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network continues.

"The recent video of bin Laden demonstrates his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt," Blair said. "No one can now dispute that ridding the world of the al Qaeda terrorist network is a job in the interests of us all."

Earlier, the prime minister's official spokesman said it was unlikely that the entire peacekeeping contingent - which has been labelled the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - will be inside Afghanistan when the country's interim government takes over Dec. 22.

The spokesman said there were a number of issues that had yet to be resolved, including the role of the force, the length of time the ISAF would be in operation, its rules of engagement and how it would function in relation to military forces already in the country.

EU pledges force

On Friday, leaders from European Union countries pledged troops to the mission in what could be a trial run of the EU's proposed joint rapid reaction force.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel surprised British and other European officials when he told a news conference that all 15 EU member countries would contribute peacekeeping force and described the decision as "a turning point in the history of the European Union."

The comments by the Belgian minister at this weekend's EU summit were quickly shot down by other officials, who said that only the U.N. could mandate a peace force.

The U.K.'s Europe Minister, Peter Hain, said that although individual countries were willing to contribute troops, the EU as a whole would not be sponsoring the mission.

"It is an international force which Europe is giving full support to," he said.

The 60,000-troop EU rapid reaction force was declared operational at this weekend's summit, but ministers reached no agreement on relations with NATO. Without such a pact, the force will have to seek NATO approval for every operation, rather than acting as a permanent standing brigade.

The force would be used for peacekeeping and stabilization missions, but critics worry that it could lead to the formation of a full-blown European army.