AFGHANISTAN - Feb. 26 - UK May Have To Lead ISAF Beyond April.
UK officials say British troops will be forced to remain in charge
of the security force beyond the end-April deadline if a deal is not
reached to hand over to Ankara within two weeks. (This comes after
British PM Tony Blair discussed the issue with Turkish PM Bulent E?evit
by telephone on Feb. 25. E?evit said Ankara still wanted to lead the
force but, despite commanding the second largest standing army in NATO,
it needed external funding. Ankara wants to take over but is seeking
help from foreign governments, mainly the US, with the estimated $60m a
year cost of increasing its 260-strong troop presence by 1,000. Ankara
also wants assurances on troop contributions by other countries to the
force and when its mission would end. E?evit made the same point on Feb.
26 to Spanish Defence Minister Federico Trillo). British armed forces
chiefs are keen to resolve the uncertainty, with Bernard Jenkin, shadow
defence secretary, saying failure to reach agreement would mean "we
would be left holding the baby. There is little sign of an exit
strategy. That is one of the reasons why Turkey may be so
reluctant". The UK hopes the US might contribute troops to the
force if its UN mandate is extended and expanded after June.