NATO's take–over of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan appears to be a marriage of convenience. With the Cold War over and relative peace in place throughout Europe, NATO has lost its original raison d'etre. ISAF was created in December 2001 to establish security in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city; 30 nations undertook to contribute troops to the 5'000–strong force which has done good work but has had to operate under a cumbersome arrangement providing for the “lead–nation” commander to change every six months. At the ceremonial hand–over to NATO in Kabul yesterday it was emphasized that ISAF will continue operating exactly as before, with the “same mission, same mandate, same banner”. Since some 90 per cent of ISAF's troops are already from NATO countries, all that will change is that the Force's command will be more consistent. Although “same mission, same mandate” sounds reassuring, it is also disappointing in the sense that an opportunity seems to have been missed to consider whether ISAF's mandate needs revision. At the moment its security work is confined to supporting President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul; most of the rest of the country has reverted to rule by local warlords who recognise the central governmnet only when it suits them to do so. In other words, the plan of the United States and its coalition to create a unified nation after the defeat of the Taleban in 2001 has gone by default. Is this now an accepted fact or is the involvement of NATO a step towards helping Hamid Karzai establish his authority more widely in the country?

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