Britain Says No Final Decision On Peacekeeping Force

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

London ( - British officials deferred an announcement Tuesday on the size and command structure of peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, but Prime Minister Tony Blair said that U.K. troops could lead a peace mission "in principle."

Blair made the comment outside of his official residence on Downing Street, where Secretary of State Colin Powell joined him in a memorial to the victims of Sept. 11. The two stood at attention as the band of the American School in London played the British and American national anthems.

Speaking in Paris earlier Tuesday, Powell said the British government had offered to spearhead Afghan peacekeeping operations.

"I am pleased that the United Kingdom is willing to step forward and volunteer for a leadership role," he said.

British officials used more careful language, however. The prime minister's official spokesman said the U.K. government would not act by itself and would wait for a specific request for peacekeeping troops.

"We are very pleased that Colin Powell has such a high opinion of our contribution that he wants us to do more. We welcome that," the spokesman said. "But equally it would be totally wrong for us to be unilateralist about this."

"We have to coordinate our efforts with the U.N., coordinate our efforts with Afghanistan, and with our other allies, and that we continue to do," the spokesman said.

Blair said no formal decision has been made on troop contributions.

"There are still an immense amount of details to be decided and discussions to be had," he said after Tuesday's ceremony. "There are a whole host of things to be discussed and bolted down."

U.S. military planners were also said to be apprehensive about an ongoing parallel peace mission while battles still rage near al-Qaeda bases in the south Afghanistan. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has warned that the two military operations should not overlap.

"There must be a clear separation between the current deployment against the Taliban and U.N. troops to support the accord," Schroeder said in Berlin.

Germany had been mentioned as a possible peacekeeping leader, but that role is expected to go to Britain despite the postponement of a formal announcement Tuesday.

Powell said over the weekend that it would be desirable for the force to be in place when a new Afghan interim government takes over in Kabul on Dec. 22.

Difference of emphasis

On Monday, Britain's top military commander said there was a "slight difference of emphasis" between U.S. and U.K. officials on where the war on terror should go after Afghanistan.

Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce told the Royal United Services Institute that the anti-terror coalition had to make a choice: either broaden the war or concentrate on aid and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

See Earlier Story:
Britain Could Lead Afghanistan Peacekeeping Force (December 10, 2001)