U.S. troops to guard Afghan president

Washington seeks to avert collapse of government

July 23, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. soldiers and Special Forces will move into the presidential palace and take over responsibility for the security of President Hamid Karzai, illustrating concern for his safety after the assassination of a vice president this month, a presidential spokesman said yesterday.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the newest mission for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan might last several months and is designed to ensure that Afghans keep Karzai, who was recently appointed by a grand council of representatives from all over the country.

"We certainly look at it as a relatively short-term matter," Rumsfeld said at a news conference. "What that means, whether it's weeks or months or several months, I don't know."

Rumsfeld declined to say whether the move followed a specific threat or a request from Karzai.

Karzai's spokesman, Said Tayab Jawab, cast the move in the light of the assassination of a vice president in full daylight July 6 in Kabul.

"After the unfortunate incident of Haji Abdul Qadir's assassination we are reviewing all security measures for the president, and a number of U.S. Special Forces will be helping Afghan special forces to ensure the security and safety of the president," Jawad said.

An official at Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense said 45 U.S. soldiers, including Special Forces, would take over the presidential security detail. The 70 or so defense ministry commandos would leave the presidential palace and return to their base, he said.

Jawad said the Afghan guards would remain, working with the Americans, who would train them in security work for several months. Peacekeepers with the International Security and Assistance Force in Kabul also announced this week the start of a one-month training program for bodyguards for Cabinet ministers.

Karzai's acceptance of a U.S. security detail is a sign of the worries among foreign powers that, if something happens to him, the carefully crafted power-sharing agreement in the country would collapse.

Afghanistan's military and police forces remain disparate groupings loyal to individual commanders, so security remains precarious throughout the country.

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