The fragile form of government for Afghanistan that eventually emerged from last week's UN–led negotiations in Bonn will undoubtedly need buttressing by an international force of some kind, at least in its early stages. The head of peace–keeping operations at the United Nations, Jean–Marie Guehenno, is already doing the rounds of countries willing to provide troops for such a force with the aim of having it in place by 22 December. This is a tall order; assembling and establishing UN peace–keepers usually takes months. If a much quicker operation is essential it will have to be achieved by calling on countries with forces in sufficient numbers ready and able to move at very short notice. Britain is probably in pole position for this. Frustrated by the veto placed by the United States military on its earlier deployment in Afghanistan of some four thousand troops, it is presumably still able to answer a similar call from the UN. Initially this could not be a normal UN blue–helmet, mixed–nation, peace–keeping operation. But before moving it would need Security Council authorisation as well as confirmation from Afghanistan that it would be welcome.



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