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Paras ready to stop Kabul bloodbath By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent and Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent (Filed: 14/11/2001)
BRITISH paratroopers will be sent into Afghanistan within days to ensure that there is no Northern Alliance bloodbath in Kabul, defence sources said last night.
Their overt mission will be to work alongside alliance forces in policing the city, but their real role will be to prevent an orgy of retribution.
"There is a panic to get people on the ground as urgently as possible," one source said, adding that the decision was expected to be taken by today.
The only thing holding up the decision is thought to be the Government's hope that the British troops can be sent in as the lead elements of a United Nations force, drawn largely from Muslim countries.
But the UN has already expressed reluctance to become involved and the sources said the situation was now causing such concern that the British troops were likely to be deployed "with or without the UN hat".
Tony Blair spent about 20 minutes yesterday discussing the situation in Afghanistan by telephone with Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General.
"I believe that we can make real progress towards the filling of the current power vacuum there, but we need a UN presence there as soon as possible," he told a news conference in Downing Street.
At an earlier briefing, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the alliance leadership had given assurances about their intentions.
He hinted at the possibility that a peacekeeping force from predominantly Muslim nations - including Turkey, Jordan, Indonesia and Bangladesh - could be used to maintain order.
The spokesman said: "Any future deployment will want to recognise the political context in which such troops might be deployed and the sensitivities of the local people."
The British soldiers, from 2 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, based at Colchester, Essex, have been put on stand-by to move to an undisclosed destination in "the Middle-East".
The battalion has only just returned from leave after taking part in the Nato operation to collect weapons from the rebel Albanian National Liberation Army.
But 3 Bn, the Parachute Regiment is currently serving in Northern Ireland, while 1 Bn is thought already to be standing by to assist in any major SAS operation inside Afghanistan.
Downing Street seemed to be taken by surprise by the speed with which Kabul fell. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said at the weekend that he wanted the Northern Alliance to "steam across northern Afghanistan" and take the capital.
But Mr Hoon quickly issued a clarification when the Americans made it clear that capturing Kabul was not a priority.
The Prime Minister welcomed the military progress made in Afghanistan. Mr Blair said: "The military strategy aimed at defeating the Taliban is clearly succeeding. They are in disarray and retreat.
"However, our job is not yet done by any means. We need urgently to put in place the next political and humanitarian moves that the changing military situation now permits."
He insisted that the successor government to the crumbling Taliban regime must be "broad based" and represent all the country's ethnic groupings.
Mr Blair said the alliance, which is predominantly made up of Tajiks and Uzbeks, had accepted that it would include representatives of the Pathans, the country's largest ethnic grouping. Mr Blair said the coalition's task had been eased by the disintegration of the Taliban forces.
"They are clearly in retreat and in some cases in a state of collapse but it is too early to say the objectives have been met," he said.
-- Anonymous, November 13, 2001