29 December 2001
Plans to establish an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan could be delayed, as negotiations on deploying the British-led force are not expected to be concluded for several days.
Afghanistan has not yet signed any final agreement on the size and mandate of an International Security Assistance Force.
However, a preliminary accord had been reached with John McColl, the British major general who will lead the force.
The British military spokesman in Kabul, Major Guy Richardson, said it will be several days before he expects an agreement to be signed. "The message is, the agreement has not been signed as of today, but meetings have continued, and they're going extremely well," he said.
Major Richardson declined to say what issues are still being negotiated, and said he could not give any figures on how many troops will eventually be deployed, and where they will set up camps in the city.
It is believed, however, the force will total between 3,000 and 4,000.
There are currently an estimated 200 British Royal Marines patrolling Kabul.
The creation of the peacekeeping force was called for in the Bonn agreement that created the interim government, which began serving its six month term one week ago.
It provides only for the deployment of peacekeepers in Kabul, although many in Afghanistan would like to see it extended to other parts of the country.
Meanhwhile, Afghanistan's defense minister, General Mohammad Fahim, suggested on Friday that terror suspect Osama bin Laden may have escaped the American bombing campaign in eastern Afghanistan. The general said there is a strong probability the al-Qaida leader is in Peshawar, in northern Pakistan.
At one point, American intelligence officials were saying Osama bin Laden was in the extensive Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex in the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan. But searches of the area, which underwent an extended offensive by anti-Taleban forces backed by American air strikes, failed to turn up any sign of him.
General Fahim also said there is no longer a need for U.S. bombing, once a few remaining border areas were cleared of final resistance. His spokesman told reporters that the bombing must stop.
However, the United States, said it has not received any requests to halt the bombing. Both President Bush and the American general in charge of the military campaign said they are keeping all options open.
Mr. Bush also said intelligence reports show that Osama bin Laden and his associates want to carry out further attacks on America and its allies.