London (CNSNews.com) - Britain is prepared to send up to 3,000 troops to lead a peacekeeping mission in war-ravaged Afghanistan, according to news reports published Monday and weekend comments by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell said the eventual make-up and command structure of the force was yet to be determined, but that both the U.K. and Germany have expressed interest in taking leading roles.
Speaking to reporters aboard a plane traveling from NATO headquarters in Belgium to Uzbekistan on Saturday, Powell said details and mission of a peacekeeping force could be hammered out soon.
"It would be desirable if this thing was starting to move at the time the (Afghan interim) government set up on Dec. 22," Powell said.
A Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesman told CNSNews.com on Monday that an announcement on the British contribution could come this week. Powell will visit London on Tuesday to mark the three-month anniversary of the September 11 attacks in a ceremony with Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The spokesman said that although there has been no request for peacekeepers from Britain so far, the U.K. is ready to respond to any such appeal, either from the United States or the United Nations.
U.K. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon expressed enthusiasm for a peacekeeping force during a radio broadcast Sunday.
"We have won the war and it is important that we win the peace and we play our part in the international community to rebuild Afghanistan," Hoon told the BBC.
Several newspaper reports estimated the size of the British contribution to be anywhere from 800 to 3,000 troops. More than 4,000 British soldiers are already in the region, with several hundred on the ground inside Afghanistan.
Larger force expected
Retired Maj. Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, said that the MoD's Department of Peacekeeping Operations is lobbying for an even larger force to be sent to the region.
"They want a large force, on the scale of the one that was sent into Kosovo - more than 30,000 troops," Heyman said.
U.K. forces on 48-hour alert include the Parachute Regiment and 16 Air Assault Brigade, two highly skilled units with experience carrying out a range of missions in difficult conditions.
"These units were the first into (Kosovo capital) Pristina and are perfectly configured to lead this mission. It's the right body of troops," Heyman said.
The mission in Afghanistan would differ from an ordinary peacekeeping mission where a force must uphold a truce between two warring factions, Heyman explained.
"This would be more of a peace support operation," he said. "There's general chaos, banditry, looting and factional violence, and the troops in this situation will be looking to introduce peace and calm into the situation."
Heyman said U.S. military leaders are "almost certainly" looking for another nation to lead a peacekeeping force because of the hunt for ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the prime suspect behind the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.
"The U.S. is focused on fighting, and is happy to let other nations tackle the other jobs," he said.
It is expected that a multinational force inside Afghanistan will include at least 5,000 troops at the outset and focus initially on securing the capital, Kabul.\fs23