KABUL, Afghanistan – More than 200 Turkish troops landed in the Afghan capital just after dawn Tuesday, the main body of an expanded contingent that will take command of the international force guarding Kabul later this month.
The soldiers arrived on a civilian Airbus at the military side of Kabul Airport and filed off the plane with bags and briefcases but no guns. They were greeted in a receiving line by Turkish troops already stationed in Kabul as part of the International Security Assistance Forces.
The 18-nation ISAF contingent, which now numbers 5,000, has been charged with keeping order in Kabul since January. Though it is part of a U.N. mandate, it does not consist of blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers. Instead, forces from the different nations work together under an umbrella command.
That command has been held by Britain, but later this month, British ISAF commander Gen. John McColl is to hand the reins to Turkey. Turkish forces and advisers have been arriving piecemeal in recent weeks, but the group that arrived Tuesday was the largest to date.
In addition to guarding the capital, ISAF forces will help a new, specially trained Afghan National Guard unit protect the city next week during the loya jirga, the grand council meeting to pick a transitional government for Afghanistan.
Last month, the United Nations extended ISAF's mandate in Kabul until the end of the year but refused repeated requests from the interim government of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai to expand the force to other Afghan cities.