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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peacekeeping to Move Beyond Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan president Tuesday welcomed the long-awaited UN approval to expand an international peacekeeping force beyond the capital, a move considered crucial for the nation's efforts to rein in warlords and prepare for historic elections next year.

The 15-member UN Security Council gave the go-ahead late Monday for the 5,500-strong force to fan out to key cities in some of Afghanistan's most lawless provinces, where feuding warlords hold sway and Taliban rebels have engaged in an ever-fiercer insurgency. The International Security Assistance Force is under NATO command, with Germany and Canada supplying the most troops.

"This is what the Afghan people have been asking for since the beginning of the interim administration and I'm glad that the voice of Afghans for better security has been heard by the international community," President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.

Afghanistan is moving toward its first national elections in years, with the vote scheduled for June 2004. Officials acknowledge that improving security nationwide is critical if the vote is to succeed. Still, the speed and scope of the ISAF expansion was unclear, and there has not been any official word on how many additional troops might be involved.

Very few countries have come forward to offer troops for the expansion. Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, said his country will seek parliamentary approval for an expanded force of between 230 and 450 German troops to deploy in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. The area is relatively peaceful compared to areas in the south and east of Afghanistan, where insurgents have targeted aid workers, Afghan officials and soldiers, and U.S. troops.

Provincial officials were quick to lobby for an ISAF presence in their own regions. Abdul Hamid Balkhi, the intelligence chief in Kunduz, said the people of his area had been "desperately waiting for this decision." "We are ready to cooperate with our German brothers," he said by satellite phone.