LONDON – Britain is willing to lead an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan and the first troops could be on the ground shortly, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday.
Addressing parliament, Blair said a number of details remain to be resolved, but several nations had indicated they were willing to contribute troops, including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Jordan and New Zealand.
London hopes the United Nations Security Council will approve the deployment of the force by the end of the week, and Britain expects to contribute up to 1,500 troops, Blair said.
Earlier Monday, a government spokesman said the first international peacekeeping troops could be in Afghanistan by the end of the week. The lead elements of a stabilization force were expected to be in place by Saturday, when an interim administration is scheduled to take power in Afghanistan.
"I don't think anyone is expecting the totality of any force to have their boots on the ground by that point. That is not to say there may not be forces in Kabul by then," the unidentified spokesman told the Press Association.
Meanwhile, the leader of the interim Afghan administration, Hamid Karzai, arrived in London for talks with the British Foreign Office's two senior Afghan experts.
Karzai was to meet with Robert Cooper and Stephen Evans, Britain's former special envoy in Kabul, during a brief stopover at Heathrow Airport.
The new leader was on his way to Rome to meet with the exiled Afghan king, Zahir Shah.
More news on the composition of the stabilization force is expected Tuesday when a British military reconnaissance team in Kabul, led by Maj. Gen. John McColl, was to report back to London after completing negotiations with key figures in the new administration.