Afghans celebrate new era with ancient ceremony
By Dmitry Solovyov and Brian Williams
Friday March 22, 10:00 AM
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan celebrated its first new year without the Taliban on
Thursday, raising a flag over the famed Blue Mosque in this historic northern city to mark the end of radical Islamic rule.
There was a near stampede by hysterical pilgrims towards the green and pink flag -- engraved with gold inscriptions
from the Koran -- when a post was pulled aloft to which it was already attached.
The flag is believed to bring good luck and to have healing powers.
The mid-morning ceremony, frowned upon under the Taliban, turned into a powerful display of unity by Afghanistan's
many ethnic power brokers, and a vote of confidence in the interim leader Hamid Karzai who gave the order for the
flag to fly again.
There were speeches by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, powerful local warlord and Deputy Defence Minister
General Abdul Rashid Dostum as well as other ethnic leaders, who all paid tribute to the leadership of Karzai, a
member of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun ethnic group.
U.S. officials including special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also stood by Karzai's side during the ceremony.
"Today we live in an Afghanistan that moves towards peace, civilisation and enlightenment," Karzai said to loud cheers
from about 20,000 people in and outside the mosque walls.
People crowded onto rooftops up to 200 yards (metres) away to get a glimpse of the ceremony, which attracted
pilgrims from all over the country.
FLAG OVER ALI'S SHRINE
The flag was raised over what Afghans believe to be the tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of Islam's founding Prophet
He is a major icon of the Shia sect and it is one of the many contradictions in Afghanistan that the mainly Sunni nation
reveres him so deeply.
The green in the flag represents Islam while pink is normally associated with certain tribes in northern Afghanistan.
The flag-raising ceremony was traditionally the highlight of the opening day of Nauroz, Afghanistan's Spring New Year
Although the event continued after the Taliban took control of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, it was frowned upon as
un-Islamic and Afghans were told not to kiss the standard.
The Taliban said the celebration of New Year should not be seen as a religious ceremony as it dates back to pagan
spring rites before the birth of Islam.
The thousands packed inside the mosque surged towards the post and had to be beaten back by soldiers with rifle
butts, as Karzai gave the order for the post to be raised by eight men hauling on ropes.
With tears streaming down his weather beaten face as the post reached its full height, farmer Zummiri said: "Now they
(the Taliban) are really dead".
Shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Great) rang out through the mosque.
Money was flung into the small enclosure around the post in a mark of respect for Ali, and pilgrims sought to touch the
post and flag believing it brings good luck as well as healing the sick.
A family raised a son with withered legs so he could touch the icon and a 21-gun salute rang out.
There could have been no greater showing of Afghanistan's new style of Islam than the mid-morning event.
There were women, with and without the burqa, dotted throughout the crowd in the mosque, breaking a taboo that
they could only pray at home.
In a symbol of the changing role for Afghan women, a young girl recited verses from the Koran and there was a speech
about women's rights.
Equally obvious were many clean-shaven Afghan men in western business suits, many with a mobile phone handy.
Under the Taliban, long beards and traditional Afghan dress were the order of the day.
And in a final break from Taliban taboo, music was played.
"We are breaking with the past. I believe in the new Afghanistan, people will have a better life," Karzai said.
The only jarring note at the ceremony was the portrait of dead warlord Ahmad Shah Masood which stared out from
the podium where Karzai and others made their speeches.
Although Karzai is leader of the interim government, some northerners see him as a pale stand-in for Masood who was
assassinated on September 9 but whose followers occupy key posts like the Defence, Interior and Foreign Ministries.
However the speeches all stressed unity.
"To succeed we must all stand together," Dostum said. "This is my request to all of you that we stand together against
those who would take away our freedom and peace."
There were cheers from Dostum's soldiers who provided security for the gathering.
Karzai announced the release of 300 prisoners in the Mazar-i-Sharif area in a New Year amnesty.
He also urged the world to make good on its pledges of financial assistance to Afghanistan which has been devastated
by more than two decades of the Soviet occupation, an ensuing civil war and Taliban rule.
"Today's holiday is the best day in my life," Police General Mohammad Zahir Hoshemi said,
"I see Afghanistan's future as beautiful and cloudless. It's high time to stop killing and robbing."
Pentagon official says no Iraq nuclear evidence needed
By JoAnne Allen
Friday March 22, 2:35 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - While Iraq considers whether to permit the return of U.N. arms inspectors, a top
Pentagon official warned on Thursday the United States does not need proof that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is
using weapons of mass destruction before taking action to stop him.
"What the president has said is we can't wait until we have evidence that somebody is using weapons of mass
destruction against the United States before we do something to prevent it," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
said in a CNN interview.
Wolfowitz, a proponent of making Iraq an early target as the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign extends beyond
Afghanistan, said Saddam was "a very serious problem" that President George W. Bush has made clear the United
States intends to resolve.
"I don't think he's said what that solution will be, but waiting forever is not a solution," Wolfowitz said.
The number-two man at the Pentagon expressed scepticism about whether weapons inspectors would be able to do
their jobs if they were allowed back into Iraq.
"They would be severely challenged because Saddam has had several years to hide everything," Wolfowitz said. "It
would have to be a very, very forceful inspection system to work."
U.N. inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 on the eve of U.S.-British airstrikes meant to punish Baghdad for not
cooperating with the arms experts. Iraq would not allow the inspectors to come back and is now in talks with the
United Nations on whether to allow their return.
In a separate interview on PBS, Wolfowitz denied suggestions that Israeli-Palestinian violence had become a hurdle
preventing the United States from taking action against Iraq. Many Arab leaders have said publicly that they would not
support a U.S. move against Iraq as long as violence rages in the Middle East.
Wolfowitz said he understood that the Arab leaders were in a tough position.
"If you were asking someone who's under threat from a serious criminal what should you do about him, I don't think
you'd expect that person to go out in public and say 'well I think the law enforcement agencies should come and deal
with him,' I think they'd want to know what the law enforcement agencies are going to do."
U.S. rules for military terror trials draw criticism
By Charles Aldinger
Friday March 22, 10:19 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States unveiled rules for expected military trials of some al Qaeda and
Taliban captives in the war on terror and quickly blew up a storm of criticism over defendant rights on Thursday.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the "commissions" would be different from traditional military courts-martial,
but critics assailed rules that did not provide for defendants to appeal convictions to civilian courts.
Few of the 500-plus al Qaeda guerrillas and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan and now held by the U.S. military
are expected to face military trials.
Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference that President George W. Bush had not selected any captives for trial. The
secretary did not say where such trials might be held.
Those facing trial would be presumed innocent, would have the right to avoid self incrimination and would be provided
military counsel, he said.
The juries, which could impose the death penalty for certain crimes, would include up to seven members of the military.
Rumsfeld would name a three-member military panel to review decisions and Bush could appoint civilians to briefly join
the armed forces and serve on review panels.
Two-thirds of a jury would be enough to convict, but a unanimous vote would be required for the death penalty.
Bush, who authorized the military trials after the September 11 attacks on America, would have to give final approval
to any death sentences.
"Most people will find that, taken together, (the rules) are fair and balanced and justice will be served in their
application," Rumsfeld said.
PROBLEMS OVER DEATH PENALTY, APPEALS
The military trials have caused concern among some countries, especially in Europe where European Union nations
oppose capital punishment. Amnesty International and other civil rights groups raised objections on Thursday because
convictions would go only to the military review board and not to civilian courts.
"We fear that in the proceedings undertaken by military commissions, justice may neither be done, nor seen to be
done," said William Shulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith stressed the rules, while different from both civilian and traditional military
trials, were extremely fair at a time when America was fighting those bent on killing civilians.
"We are ... fighting a war that is going to last for a long time and we want to try to bring justice to some of these
individuals while the war is still under way," he said.
Despite insistence by Rumsfeld and Bush that the procedure would be fair, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
in New York demanded to know how the government would "guarantee an independent appeal process."
"Secretary Rumsfeld highlighted that the regulations are consistent with U.S. traditions of fairness and justice," said
Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York.
"These traditions include independent judicial review by an independent judiciary -- and that's absent here. Defendants
cannot appeal to the civilian courts," added Posner.
OPEN TO PRESS COVERAGE
Addressing journalists' fears the trials might be closed to coverage, Defense Department General Counsel Jim Haynes
said reporters would be given access in most cases except when top-secret material was being discussed.
He also suggested that while the rules did not provide for appeal to civilian courts, lawyers for convicted defendants
might file such appeals.
Asked how similar the trials might be to Nuremberg war crimes trials of Nazis after World War Two, Haynes said
there were some similarities but "these procedures frankly are much more detailed and in many respects are more
generous (in their defendants rights) than what was done at Nuremberg."
Bush and other administration officials insisted the rules were less stringent than some critics had feared, but the
American Civil Liberties Union argued the prisoners captured in the war in Afghanistan could be denied due process
The new rules sparked different reactions in Congress, where House Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob
Stump, an Arizona Republican, and ranking Democratic member Ike Skelton of Missouri praised the commissions.
"They support the fundamental values of fairness and due process," they said in a statement.
But Democrat John Conyers of Michigan countered: "They (the Pentagon and White House) just want to get easier
Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who criticised initial plans for the military trials several months ago,
praised the Pentagon on Thursday for moving away from the strict Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs
military court martials.
"I am pleased that the administration is moving forward with rules on military tribunals which provide a balance to
convict the guilty and to protect the rights of defendants," said Specter, a former district attorney.
Pearl kidnap suspect appears in Pakistan court
By Aamir Ashraf
Friday March 22, 3:13 PM
KARACHI (Reuters) - Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the prime suspect in the kidnapping of murdered American
journalist Daniel Pearl, was brought to a Pakistani court under heavy police guard on Friday, two days before his
custody was due to expire.
It was not clear whether British-born Omar would be formally charged or have his detention extended by the
Anti-Terrorist Court in the port city of Karachi, where Pearl was abducted on January 23 while investigating militant
The case is seen a key test of Pakistan's resolve in dealing with suspected Muslim hardliners as part of its role in the
U.S.-led war on terror.
Sheikh Omar, as he is known, has been indicted by a U.S. court on one count of hostage-taking and one of conspiring
to take hostages resulting in the death of Pearl, The Wall Street Journal's South Asia bureau chief.
He is also suspected of kidnapping Western tourists in India eight years ago and having links to the September 11
attacks on the United States.
At least 500 police officers surrounded the court building as others with high-powered weapons surveyed the scene
from rooftops. Paramilitary rangers were also out in force.
Police blocked off the usually busy roads around the court and the gate to the building with some two dozen vans.
"It's a high-profile case and we have stepped up security because of the incidents of terrorism in Karachi, Lahore and
Islamabad over the past two weeks," a senior police officer told Reuters.
Omar was whisked into the compound in an armoured police truck and the media was kept well away from the court.
Born in 1974, Omar is the son of a wholesale clothes merchant from Wanstead in northeast London who went to an
expensive school but dropped out of one of Britain's top universities, the London School of Economics.
He could now face the death penalty in the United States if found guilty of a role in Pearl's abduction and death.
Pakistan says it would only consider handing over Omar to U.S. authorities once it has completed any trial.
In 1994, Indian police arrested Omar and accused him of involvement in the kidnapping of three Britons and an
Omar and two other alleged militants were freed from an Indian jail in 1999 in exchange for 155 hostages held on an
Indian airliner hijacked to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Pearl was abducted in Karachi on January 23 while trying to contact radical Islamic groups and trying to investigate
possible links between alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Although his body has never been found, his kidnappers released a graphic video showing Pearl being murdered.
At his last remand hearing, Omar had to be gagged by police as he emerged from court shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God
is greatest) and "Down with America".
He also threatened to make America suffer if he was extradited from Pakistan, a prosecution lawyer said.
US ambassador to Italy wishes Afghan ex-king luck
Thursday March 21, 3:52 AM
Afghan's former king Mohammed Zahir Shah was received by the US ambassador to Italy, before his planned return to
Afghanistan which he left nearly 30 years ago.
Mel Sembler welcomed the exiled former monarch in his villa, hoping that Zahir Shah's presence in his native country
would help "bring peace and stability" as it recovers from more than 20 years of war.
Zahir Shah is due to return to Afghanistan on March 26, after 29 years in exile in Rome.
He said earlier Wednesday he would return to Kabul to help begin a "new political life" for his war-torn nation.
In a statement for the Afghan New Year, he said that his long-awaited return home was a voluntary decision aimed at
helping restore peace and mend the country's torn social fabric.
"I am thankful to God the Almighty that my desire to see my country and countrymen comes true after 29 years of
separation from the homeland," Zahir Shah said in the written statement.
"It is planned that my eyes and heart be bright, thanks to God the Compassionate, by seeing you my dear children
inside my beloved country in a matter of days."
"My return to the country is my own desire, without any condition and restriction, in respect to the will of the
countrymen with the hope to take a direct part in restoring peace, calm and national unity and re-organizing the
country's political life," said the message, written in the local language of Dari.
The former king's private secretary and spokesman, Hamid Sidiq, told AFP Zahir Shah would leave the Italian capital,
where he has lived since 1973, on March 25 and reach the Afghan capital the next day, accompanied by family
members, close associates and foreign dignitaries.
U.S. says killed 10 rebels in Afghanistan attack
By Christine Hauser
Thursday March 21, 3:03 PM
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Thursday it had killed at least 10 Taliban and
al Qaeda fighters who attacked coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan and would question a wounded prisoner.
One U.S. soldier was in stable condition after being shot in the arm in the firefight early on Wednesday at an airfield at
Khost near the eastern border with Pakistan.
Khost and the province of the same name border the area where for three weeks the biggest ground battle of the
Afghan War was fought in the rugged mountains around the Shahi Kot Valley in Paktia province.
"We searched the area we were attacked from and we found more than 10 bodies," U.S. spokesman Major Bryan
Hilferty said. "We detained one person in the area that we received the fire from."
Hilferty, briefing reporters at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, had said on Wednesday coalition forces were attacked for
several hours with machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
The Pentagon later said an AC-130 gunship -- a four-engine turboprop aircraft capable of delivering withering
machinegun and 105mm cannon fire -- was flown in to respond to the attack.
Hilferty said on Thursday he was not sure whether the dead rebels were killed in the firefight or the air strike. He said
the detainee was wounded and would be questioned to see whether he was al Qaeda or Taliban.
Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported three Afghan allied soldiers were killed, but this could not be confirmed.
As Afghans celebrated an ancient equinox and new year holiday for the first time since it was suppressed by the
fundamentalist Taliban regime, Hilferty said any jubilant firing of weapons was little cause for concern.
"I am more worried about mortars aimed at me than about celebratory gunfire," he said.
THE WAR CONTINUES
The last of the major battles of "Operation Anaconda" in the Shahi Kot area ended on March 13 when U.S., Canadian
and Afghan troops stormed rebel caves and trenches.
The focus then shifted to a guerrilla war as small bands of fighters from the Taliban and Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's
al Qaeda network -- blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks on the United States -- tried to flee the
On Tuesday, U.S. officials declared "Operation Anaconda" officially over but said coalition forces would continue to
hunt down pockets of resistance.
More than 1,000 U.S. and Canadian troops were pulled out of Shahi Kot this week after sealing off an elaborate
network of caves in mountains which soar 12,000 feet (3,700 metres).
"The war continues," Hilferty said on Thursday. "Surveillance and reconnaissance missions continue throughout the
country to help the Afghans rid themselves of the al Qaeda terrorists."
The U.S. military says it killed hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters during the fighting in Paktia and has rejected
suggestions by Afghan commanders that most of the rebel force slipped away over the rugged mountains towards
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said in Turkey on Wednesday the United States and Turkey were close to agreeing
on plans for the largely Muslim state to take over command of the international security force for Afghanistan from
The first elements of a new British force -- its biggest combat deployment since the 1991 Gulf War despatched in
response to a U.S. request last Friday -- are expected to be on the ground within days and ready for operations by
SECURITY UNDER CONTROL
Speaking in Moscow on Wednesday, the U.S. general in charge of the Afghanistan campaign said he believed security
was in hand despite a long history of tribal and ethnic violence.
"We do see the security situation as under control at this point," General Tommy Franks said.
"But I think all of the international community is aware of the potential for a flare-up in Afghanistan between the tribes,
and so we are all keeping an eye on it."
An administration under interim leader Hamid Karzai, brought in after the U.S. campaign toppled the ultra-Islamic
Taliban movement, was created in an effort to span the ethnic divides.
Britain said on Wednesday the 1,700 troops it is rushing to Afghanistan would stay "until the job is done".
"The remaining al Qaeda and Taliban elements must be dealt with," Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament.
"Our exit strategy is that we will leave when the task is completed."
New year brings joy to Mazar
Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 22:50 GMT BBC News
Thousands crammed into the city square It was a moment everyone had been waiting for. There were cheers and
applause as the flag of the revered Hazrat Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, was raised. Karzai spoke of a
new Afghanistan In the hazy sunshine all eyes were fixed on the green and pink flags.
Flocks of birds flew across the turquoise dome of the shrine, disturbed by the commotion. Money was thrown towards
the flagpole, fluttering earthwards like confetti. Hundreds of people surged forward trying to touch or get close to the
mast. In an adjoining courtyard there were women - a sea of blue and white veils.
The flag-raising ceremony is the focus of Nowruz celebrations in Afghanistan's second city, Mazar-e-Sharif. From the
early hours of the morning crowds of Afghans made their way to the shrine of Hazrat Ali. Those unable to get close
enough climbed up trees for a better view. Others pressed against heavily-guarded gates.
Security was tight - the police force, doubled in size for the holiday, drilled at strategic points around the city centre;
there were also soldiers watching from rooftops. Traffic has been restricted on roads around the shrine.
Celebrations focused on the flag-raising ceremony
When Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai arrived on Wednesday, crowds lined the streets onto the town.
Curious onlookers appeared on balconies and in windows. Mr Karzai received an enthusiastic reception at the shrine.
In his address, he said the future Afghanistan would be a country which soon, God willing, would not be begging from
others but helping them instead, and would have pride and dignity. Business thrives While Mr Karzai looked to the
future, Mazar residents were keenly aware of the contrast with the past.
Stallholders in the bazaar said business was good this year as families prepared special Nowruz dishes. People climbed
onto the trees to get a better view
Spinach is among the traditional ingredients, but, as one vendor explained, he barely sold any in recent years because
the Taleban would not let him.
An elderly Afghan summed up the difference. Last year, he said, we celebrated Nowruz as a death ceremony. This
year we will do so like a wedding.
Veils off Perhaps the most striking change was more women lifting their veils for the first time. Emerging from the shrine
were individuals not anonymous shapes.
Some women lifted their veils for the first time Asked why they had chosen to lift their veils at Nowruz, they said peace
had returned to their country. Some spoke of the move as a symbolic gesture, linked to their official return to school or
university next week.
Afghans here have clearly enjoyed being able to celebrate Nowruz again. They say they feel optimistic about the
coming year, but there is a deep-rooted element of caution too.
Rival Warlords Control Afghan City
Fri Mar 22, 7:36 AM ET
By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer
KHOST, Afghanistan (AP) - Caught on the front line of the Afghan war, the people of this volatile city near the
Pakistani border long for the good old days of Taliban rule, when they say security was good and guns were rarely
That changed with the arrival of coalition forces seeking to oust al-Qaida and Taliban fighters from their former
Local security officials say U.S. special forces have played the old game of power-brokering with Afghan warlords,
literally dividing Khost among rival tribesmen.
The rampant lawlessness threatens to explode into tribal warfare — which could shift local loyalties back toward the
Taliban, creating an even more hostile environment for U.S. forces operating in the region.
Since arriving in the border region in December, the Americans have recruited men loyal to Bacha Khan Zardran, a
local warlord, and to the city's police commander, Mohammad Mustafa, to help to secure the area while coalition
forces hunt al-Qaida and Taliban forces. Their men are each paid $200 a month.
But there's a hitch in the security equation: The two men and a couple of other minor players have become embroiled in
a battle of their own for control of the city.
Already, sandbags mark areas of control. And on Thursday, a gunman loyal to Zardran shot and killed one of
Mustafa's officers at a checkpoint near the entrance to the city.
By late afternoon, four people had died in gunbattles in the city. The market was closed. And men with
rocket-launchers had taken up positions on rooftops.
Zardran's men have struck before, last week laying siege to the police chief for four days. Mustafa said the siege was
lifted only after the Americans intervened.
A sense of unease was still evident throughout the city.
"Under the Taliban 100 percent it was secure," said Noor Ali, a customs officer whose rifle was slung carelessly over
his shoulder as he drank tea with co-workers at a customhouse near the Khost airport.
They blamed the interim regime in Kabul and the U.S.-led coalition for the deteriorating situation in their city and Paktia
province. Ali complained about having to work Thursday, the start of a new year by the Islamic calendar.
"Today is the new year holiday and we are working, but we get nothing. How long can the government cheat us? One
day we will cut our relations with the government," said Ali, who hasn't been paid since the Taliban were overthrown in
"The Americans are just setting up military units, but they are not doing anything for the people."
Zardran's siege on the local police may have been lifted, but the police chief's office is like a bunker.
A half dozen guards kept watch outside, and a padlock secured a door at one end of the cement office while an armed
officer stood guard at the other.
"My position is a defensive position," Mustafa said.
The brother of the dead policeman, meanwhile, has threatened an escalation: "They killed my brother. I will kill 10 of
The only reason Mustafa hasn't waged all-out war with Zardran's men, he says, is because the U.S. military has told
him not to.
Zardran's men give the same reason for not widening their battle with Mustafa.
While they battle each other in the dusty city, Mustafa says the Taliban are merely waiting in the snow-covered
mountains for the next opportunity to strike.
Local loyalties are already split.
Zardran's intelligence chief blamed supporters of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former Taliban leader believed to be living in
Pakistan, for the attack on U.S. forces at the Khost airport Tuesday night.
"He has military people in the villages around here," said Mohammed Fazl. "Haqqani has many supporters here."
Coalition forces called in an AC-130 helicopter to respond to machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars
fired on their positions.
The U.S. military said at least 10 enemy fighters were killed in the battle, and that they detained a wounded gunman
found among the dead.
Neither Zardran's men nor Mustafa could confirm the dead or the detainee.
But Mustafa said one Afghan ally was killed and three injured when an AC-130 and B-1 bomber blasted a prison
being used as a guard post at the airport.
"Two nights ago, they killed an Afghan and when I asked why, they said, 'Sorry.' What is the meaning of sorry?" asked
Istalluha, a uniformed Afghan soldier loyal to Zardran
U.S.-Afghan Game Turns Violent
Fri Mar 22, 6:20 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A friendly basketball game between U.S. and Afghan teams turned violent, with one American
player kicked in the head and an Afghan spectator shot in the leg, peacekeepers said Friday.
The incident Thursday began when an American player fell on the court near the seating area of the Kabul stadium. An
Afghan spectator stepped forward and kicked the player in the head, Flight Lt. Tony Marshall said.
An Afghan guard with the U.S. team moved in to try to push the crowd back. He cocked his Kalashnikov and it went
off unintentionally, hitting an Afghan spectator in the leg, Marshall said.
The guard was taken into police custody, he said.
Marshall said that up until this point the game had been played in an atmosphere of goodwill.
The match occurred on the second day of a four-day tournament in the Afghan capital. The American team, which
included soldiers, U.S. Embassy personnel and one British player, pulled out of the tournament after the incident, he
Last month, a melee erupted at the stadium where peacekeepers and Afghans were playing a goodwill soccer match.
Afghan police fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd that was pushing to get in.
Not all sporting events between international forces and Afghans have ended violently, however.
This week, British and other members of the international peacekeeping force played a cricket match with an Afghan
team — complete with cucumber triangle sandwiches, scones and tea. The Afghans were leading when rain ended the
Afghan: Anaconda killed 340 foe
Fri Mar 22, 6:13 AM ET
Vivienne Walt USA TODAY
KABUL, Afghanistan (news - web sites) -- This country's chief of intelligence said Thursday that about 340 al-Qaeda
and Taliban fighters were killed during Operation Anaconda, an estimate far closer to figures cited by U.S.
commanders than previously cited by Afghan officials.
But in the interview, Gen. Niamatullah Jalili also said the majority of enemy fighters had survived the 17-day campaign
and escaped to Pakistan, possibly with help from that country's intelligence service. He said those fighters could launch
a guerrilla war.
Operation Anaconda, which began March 1 and was the biggest ground battle involving large numbers of U.S. troops
since the U.S.-led war on terrorism started in Afghanistan in October, ended this week. Eight U.S. soldiers and three
allied-Afghan fighters died.
The number of al-Qaeda and Taliban killed has been impossible to verify. U.S. commanders have said more than 500
might have been killed, but few bodies have been found. Several allied-Afghan commanders said few enemies died.
Jalili said one reason it has been hard to add up the number of enemy forces killed is that ''bodies were scattered
around in bunkers, villages and caves.'' He called his estimate a ''general assessment number.'' Jalili said he believes that
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is still protecting and backing Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. ''Of this
there is no doubt,'' the Afghan intelligence chief said. ''The majority of al-Qaeda and Taliban fled back to Pakistan.''
The ISI had helped put the Taliban in power here. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has backed the U.S. war on
terrorism, but many hard-liners within ISI are thought to be against that policy.
Also Thursday, tens of thousands of Afghans crammed Kabul's national stadium for a chaotic celebration of Persian
New Year, the first such festivities since the Taliban outlawed the Central Asian holiday in 1996, the year the group
For many, their last visit to the stadium had been to witness one of the executions and amputations carried out by the
Taliban. ''I came here to talk to my football (soccer)coach two years ago and was told I had to stay and watch an
amputation,'' said Khalid Enayatullah, 17. ''There was a thief. . . . They cut off his right hand and his left leg.''
While politicians delivered New Year's speeches to an indifferent audience, cock-fighting teams, wrestlers, and floats --
including an effigy of Taliban leader Mohammed Omar -- entertained. Farmers marched around the stadium track,
wielding picks and hoes. Dancers spun as drummers beat out traditional rhythms.
The day's celebrations kicked off with the arrival of Afghanistan's only female paratrooper, whom the Taliban had
banned from parachuting. Col. Khatol Muhammad Zai didn't land in the stadium as planned but a few miles away on
exhibition grounds. The helicopter pilot had mistaken the grounds' flags as marking the stadium.
Undaunted, Muhammad Zai took a battered taxi to the stadium, which carried her to the grass. She jumped out, still in
combat uniform, parachute trailing, and did a victory lap to loud cheering. ''Who cares where I landed?'' laughed
Muhammad Zai, who said she was in her 30s. ''My message is that women should be given freedom.''
Conditions Improve at Afghan Base
Fri Mar 22, 3:33 AM ET
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - "Things are getting better all the time," said Londi Farrow, the morale sergeant.
He must not have talked to any grimy female soldiers lately.
"Yeah, we got showers finally — if you can get to them," complained Sgt. 1st Class Loretta Feliciana. "They set aside
only two hours a day for females. If you're out refueling planes" — her dirty job — "you're out of luck."
In the Army way, slowly or quickly, by the book or by improvisation, U.S. troops are settling in for a longer haul at
their home-away-from-home, the base at Kandahar's bullet-pocked, broken-glassed, dust-coated airport. And the
troops agree that life has gotten better since 101st Airborne Division units first touched down here from Fort Campbell,
Ky., in January.
Life has been harrowing, too — when the infantry battalions got their baptism of fire earlier this month in Operation
Anaconda. But now when they return to base they can find some simple conveniences and pleasures: Showers and the
latest portable toilets, in place of crude latrines. E-mail. Junk food in the PX. Movies.
"We've shown `Black Hawk Down' 25 times as of today," said Sgt. 1st Class Farrow, 31, of Cochran, Ga., whose
sprawling Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent offers movies on a big-screen TV three times a day, and Armed Forces
Network news and sports in another corner.
The 101st Airborne's "Screaming Eagles" did better than that on Tuesday afternoon, when the Army arranged the first
live concert of the Afghanistan (news - web sites) deployment. A Nashville-based five-piece band, Mink, led by
red-panted, bare-midriffed singer Jonda Madison, left the flak-jacketed audience of 1,000 soldiers stomping and
shouting, especially at "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
"It was kind of an ice-breaker thing for bands out here," said 1st Lt. Kelvin Kearley, 26, of Mobile, Ala., who helped
arrange the show. Others will follow. "We already had a lot of people asking for rock, metal, country."
Tuesday was also the night of the "Super Supper," the first fresh hot meal of the Afghan operation — a cornucopia of
T-bone steaks, shrimp scampi, barbecued ribs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, cheesecake and on and on. Six thousand
meals in all, for a base whose maximum complement is 4,700.
"They kept coming back for seconds," said the mess chief, Staff Sgt. Patrick Walker, 35, of Detroit. "They killed the
T-bone steaks." The troops enjoyed their dinners simply plopped down, as usual, on the gravel in the open air.
The latest simple pleasures also include a rank of computers with Internet access. "It's just nice to be able to talk to
family," said Spc. Brooke Bray, 21, of Dothan, Ala., who gets advice electronically from her stepfather at home, a
retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran.
Over at the tiny, jampacked post exchange, or PX, a big tent joined to a gutted airport building, they line up at 6:30
a.m. for the 9:30 opening, to buy up the stocks of soda and candy bars, T-shirts and DVD movies. Even the 15
portable DVD players went in a flash, at $499 each.
"The biggest thing is entertainment. They've got down time," observed manager Al Logan, a 32-year PX veteran.
But the biggest improvement — "definitely," said Spc. James Marble — is the 10 shower stalls that arrived about a
month ago, even if the 20-year-old from Yering, Nev., says he sometimes waits 90 minutes for his turn.
Feliciana, 42, of Sacramento, Cal., acknowledged the shower unit freshened things up at the grubby base. "No shower
— remember, I had to sleep with myself for those first 16 days," she laughed. But she and others complained to the
brass about what they see as unfairly limited hours for women soldiers.
It seems to have worked. A second shower unit is expected within a couple of weeks, along with a mess tent with
tables for sit-down meals, and a workout gym.
"There ain't too much complaining," said Morale Sergeant Farrow. "It could be worse."
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