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Bumps on Afghan road to peace

The first foreign peacekeeping troops arrived in Kabul yesterday, but military factions remain in the capital.

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The initial 160 troops in what will be a 4,500-strong multinational force to keep the peace in the Afghan capital and surrounding areas deployed yesterday.

But they face formidable challenges, such as language barriers, no running water, and a city teeming with Northern Alliance troops. The agreement that brought peace to the country, brokered in Bonn barely a month ago, promised that the parties who participated in those talks would "withdraw all military units from Kabul and ... other areas in which the UN-mandated force is deployed."

But the Northern Alliance troops, whose leaders play key roles in the new, interim government, have not withdrawn from the city. And tensions are growing between Afghan and Western leaders over prolonged US airstrikes in the country.

One of the most important factors in bringing a sense of security was having an international peacekeeping force that would work alongside a united Afghan force, which would not be partial to military factions and would be recognized by all. Western negotiators in Bonn understood this to mean that Northern Alliance soldiers would be removed from the streets of Kabul. Afghan officials say they understood that literally: The Northern Alliance soldiers won't be on the street, but will be confined to barracks.

Though some British sources say that is a loophole to keep the Northern Alliance military apparatus in place, the official reaction is that it is the new Afghan leaderships' prerogative to change its mind.

"The Afghan interim administration are the sovereign holders of that agreement," says Simon Tonge, spokesman for the British Embassy in Kabul. Now that the UN-sanctioned ISAF and the Afghan administration have a military-technical agreement, however, arbitrary changes will be harder to make.

Britain, whose Royal Marines will lead the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), says the Afghan interim government essentially reserved the right to interpret the Bonn deal as it saw fit. But the new peacekeepers also say some concepts the West had in mind for Afghanistan may be lost in translation. British officers keep mentioning the word "patrol," which doesn't exist in Dari, the dominant language in Kabul. And according to some reports, shortly after the Bonn accords were signed some soldiers simply painted their helmets to say "police" on them.

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