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May 22, 2002


U.S. bombs militants near Pakistan-Afghan border
Wednesday May 22, 5:06 PM

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. planes attacked suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan but there was no word on casualties, a U.S. army spokesman said on Wednesday.

Major Bryan Hilferty told reporters that U.S. air force A-10 attack planes dropped bombs and fired rockets on Tuesday at more than 10 suspected militants spotted by coalition forces in an area south of the eastern Afghan city of Khost.

"We have neutralised the area, but I can't say we have killed people, no bodies were found," he said at the allied headquarters in Bagram, 50 km (30 miles) north of the capital Kabul.

"It appears they were aiming mortars at a temporary operating base we had set up," Hilferty said, adding there were plenty of indicators to suggest hostile intent.

"People at the top of the hill digging, pulling security, all had weapons and very close to the Pakistani border doesn't appear to be a wedding," he said when asked if the coalition was sure the men were enemy fighters.

U.S. warplanes last week killed 10 people in a raid in eastern Afghanistan that local media reported had mistakenly targeted a wedding party firing guns in celebration.

Khost is a hub of U.S. special forces operations and other coalition soldiers searching for pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban militants in rugged mountains near the Pakistani border.

The Taliban and al Qaeda seem to have vanished from Afghanistan's rugged and arid landscape since the last large ground battle of the Afghan war in March, when U.S. and Afghan forces took on several hundred of them in the Shahi-i-Kot valley.

Military officials say they have dispersed and many may have slipped over the porous Pakistani border.

With no known concentrations of al Qaeda or Taliban fighters to attack, the seven-month-old U.S.-led campaign has evolved into a sometimes frustrating search for a scattered, hit-and-run enemy who travels more easily and furtively than the pursuers.

A separate sweep of the mountains north of Khost by British Royal Marines, Operation Condor, was in its final stages, with still no engagement with militants.

The Marines from 45 Commando found a small cache of arms including an 82 mm mortar, more than 150 mortar bombs and some small arms, Lt-Colonel Ben Curry said.

A Marine driver sustained serious head injuries in an accident near Khost and was flown out to Kabul, Curry said. An investigation was underway into the cause of the accident.

House vote for dlrs 1.4 billion Afghan aid package underscores fears of instability
Wed May 22, 7:11 AM ET
By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives voted for a dlrs 1.4 billion Afghanistan (news - web sites) aid package that urges President George W. Bush to come up with a strategy for preventing the war-torn nation from sinking into violent chaos.

"Neither we, nor our Afghan friends, have the luxury to wait until a future security force is fully trained and deployed," said Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos (news, bio, voting record) said. "I fear that a failure to do so will lead to a failed Afghanistan."

The aid package, passed on a 390-22 House vote Tuesday, includes an amendment by Democratic Lantos that requires Bush to prepare, within 45 days, a strategy for improving security within Afghanistan. Lawmakers are concerned that local warlords and thugs will undermine the shaky interim government headed by Hamid Karzai, creating violence and chaos.

"It is vitally important that we not flounder over there," said Republican Rep. Henry Hyde (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

Senate Democrats, and many Republicans, want to do more than ask Bush for a plan. Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently urged Bush in a letter to back an expanded international peacekeeping force to secure Afghanistan, especially outside the capital of Kabul.

The Bush administration is resisting, arguing that the best course is to swiftly train an Afghan national army and police force that can do the job itself. Critics say that would take as long as two years, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Afghanistan "will, as any nation that's going to develop on this earth, have to take care of its own business."

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan, said Tuesday he hopes to complete the task of training 2,000 to 3,000 Afghan soldiers for a new national army within six months.

One problem with a larger peacekeeping force in Afghanistan is that no country has offered to send the troops, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Senate panel. He also said there are signs that some semblance of order may be returning to the country.

"It is certainly not stable, like Washington, D.C., or San Francisco or wherever. But for Afghanistan, it isn't bad," Rumsfeld said. "The big areas are reasonably secure. People get killed every once in a while, just like they do in the United States and Europe. ... It is a vastly better place than it was."

The legislation would authorize dlrs 1.45 billion over four years — the actual amounts must be approved in spending bills that come later — for humanitarian, military and economic aid and to eradicate poppy cultivation that supplies much of the world's heroin.

Much of the non-humanitarian aid would be conditioned on national and local leaders' cooperation with anti-drug efforts and a continued Afghan commitment to peace.

The Bush administration has asked for dlrs 250 million in Afghan aid for this year; the House is expected later this week to approve a supplemental spending bill raising that figure to dlrs 370 million. Many senators support an even larger amount, according to aides.

Hype undermines British mission in Afghanistan
By Michael Christie
Wednesday May 22, 8:29 AM

KABUL (Reuters) - The surprise rotation of the top British commander in Afghanistan may not have anything to do with military prowess.

Brigadier Roger Lane, who London announced on Monday would be replaced before his term expired, could be a victim of his own hype.

From the start, Britain's biggest combat deployment since the Gulf War has been dogged by accusations of exaggeration and misrepresentation.

It was a Thursday when Lane declared that the marines' second Afghan mission, "Operation Snipe", had been launched that day.

But the following day, marines spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Harradine also announced that Operation Snipe had begun.

During the previous four days, including the Thursday when the operation allegedly began, the troops had been "pre-positioning" themselves for their sweep through the soaring mountains and steep valleys of Paktia province, Harradine said.

Controversy soon followed when it emerged that a "snipe hunt" in American English means a wild goose chase.

That coincidence took on added significance when the marines returned to base without having seen any Taliban or al Qaeda enemy during their two-week slog through altitudes that only allow five exhausting steps at a time.

The marines did blow up a massive ammunition haul in a series of caves they said were last used by the fundamentalist Taliban, kicked from power last year after a U.S. air offensive, or al Qaeda, the militant Islamic group blamed for the September 11 attacks.

But even that achievement soon became mired in doubts.

The caves, which contained tens of thousands of rockets, were presented as an unexpected find.

Yet British military officials later conceded that they were among the original objectives of Operation Snipe.

"How can you find something you know is there?" wondered an allied officer from the 12,000-strong U.S.-led coalition based at Bagram air base, 50 km (30 miles) north of Kabul.

LOCAL SUPERSTORE FOR ARMS

Furthermore, it was revealed that the caves were a well-known munitions store a stone's throw from a main road. Part of the caves had even been filmed by a BBC camera crew in March.

"It's like the local Safeway's (supermarket) for arms because everyone knows where it is," said freelance cameraman Phil Goodwin, who was part of the BBC team taken to the caves two months ago by local villagers.

Snipe ended a success, according to Lane. But Fleet Street grumbled about the lack of action and critical articles began to talk of a "phoney war" or of faulty intelligence.

Lane came out fighting with a declaration that the war was "all but won" and large-scale offensive operations like Snipe would probably end in weeks rather than months.

He came under fire from home over his comments, according to British military officials at Bagram.

Warnings about hype and the dangers of getting egg on their faces began to make their way through the communications channels to the field commanders, they said.

But the missteps did not stop there.

Last week, Lane dramatically announced that several British soldiers had been taken ill with a mystery disease and around 300 had been placed under quarantine at the British field hospital in Bagram.

"Next of kin" were being informed and serious cases evacuated, he told reporters.

But then, just before London announced Lane's replacement, British officials conceded the mysterious malady was probably nothing but a common stomach bug -- as natural to the wilds of arid Afghanistan as it is to the tranquillity of Britain.

Afghan food aid hit amid global slowdown
By Stephanie Holmes

Wednesday May 22, 12:25 PM

ROME (Reuters) - Food aid to millions of hungry Afghans is critically short and the global economic slowdown is squeezing world funding of other emergency projects, the United Nations Food body said on Tuesday.

The Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP) said it was still waiting for 70 percent of the 1.9 billion dollars or four million tonnes of food aid needed this year.

"WFP is very worried, it means our emergency operations will be seriously affected and hungry people will start to die. There is no excuse for letting hungry people die," WFP's Director of Resources, Valerie Sequeira told Reuters.

WFP said the global economic downturn, which took a further hit after the September 11 attacks on the United States, had put pressure on donor governments, sending food aid plummeting down the list of priorities.

"Governments are faced with tough decisions… The decisions are usually taken on the basis of budgets, they must put money aside for aid," Sequeira said.

"But as a result of the global squeeze on the economies there is less money available to buy food aid," she added.

The situation is particularly grave in Afghanistan, hit by years of internal conflicts, drought and more recently by U.S.-led air strikes in a war that ousted the hardline Taliban, who had sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network -- blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks.

The WFP faces a 46 percent shortfall on its Afghan appeal of $285 million.

Sequeira added it was likely only television pictures of starving children would jolt public opinion and governments into action.

"It is only when these operations hit the screen that people react and in Afghanistan we really are very close," Sequeira said. "There will be pictures on TV screens that really shock."

The WFP has been forced to suspend several projects that have been helping to keep some of the nine million Afghans subsisting on humanitarian food supplies alive.

DROPPING DONATIONS

Donor nations gave 15 million tonnes of food aid for projects worldwide in 1995 but this figure had dropped to 11 million last year, WFP said.

"But the problem is growing, not diminishing… the donor community cannot keep up with the pace," Sequeira said.

The United States provides some 60 percent of the WFP's aid, six percent comes from the European Commission, five percent from Japan and most of the remaining aid from individual European countries, WFP said.

The failure of the international community to provide sufficient aid was particularly worrying for Southern Africa, facing its worst food shortages for 10 years.

"Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are all at risk," Sequeira said, adding that causes were both environmental - due to flooding and drought, and political.

"There is a food crisis going on although we are not yet talking about famine. We have to be ready to respond as an international community," she said.

Sequeira urged wealthy nations not to wait until the pictures hit the screens before digging into their pockets.

"There is an absolute need to respond, it is just not acceptable for the world to look into face of a hungry individual," Sequeira said.


850 Canadian Troops to Leave Afghanistan

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 22, 2002; Page A25

TORONTO, May 21 -- Canada announced today that it plans to pull 850 troops out of Afghanistan, saying that the country's military had been stretched thin by peacekeeping operations worldwide.

However, the country will continue to contribute sea, air and special forces to the U.S.-led operations in and around Afghanistan, officials said.

"Based on a recommendation by the chief of defense staff, we will not be rotating troops in Kandahar." Art Eggleton, the defense minister, said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Eggleton said officials took into account the "need to provide a rest and training period for our troops."

The 850 troops -- members of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group -- will return to Canada this summer after completing a six-month rotation in Afghanistan, where the battle group was commended for "successful" combat operations. Last month, four Canadian soldiers in the battle group were killed when a U.S. pilot mistakenly dropped a bomb on them during an exercise near Kandahar. Eight other soldiers were wounded in the incident.

Canadian officials said the decision to bring the troops home was not a result of the "friendly fire" incident.

"As tragic as that was, the decision had no link to that unfortunate accident," said Renee Filiatrault, a spokeswoman for the minister of national defense. "We have always said we are looking at a commitment for up to six months."

Officials said 1,300 Canadian troops would remain in Afghanistan.

US to help train Afghan police, minister pleads with donors
Tuesday May 21, 2:04 PM AFP
The United States has agreed to help train Afghanistan's new police force, interim Interior Minister Younis Qanooni said, but pleaded with foreign donors to speed up the flow of promised aid.

Qanooni wrapped up three days of meetings with top US officials on Monday, including Vice President Dick Cheney, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

He said he discussed long term US cooperation in Afghanistan, after the operation to rout out al-Qaeda militants and their Taliban protectors in the country "particularly in relation to the army and police force."

He did not detail how the United States would help to train the force, nor did he say how much money Washington had promised towards the project.

US officials were not immediately available to comment.

President George W. Bush has already asked Congress for 50 million dollars to help bankroll a new army designed to free Afghanistan from the grip of warlords.

Russia and Germany, among other nations have already offered to help train the multi-ethnic police force which is vitally needed in a country brutalised by decades of civil war.

Qanooni said that his meetings had been fruitful and cordial, and he stressed that he was satisfied with the security situation in Afghanistan.

He said the war-ravaged nation was grateful for the billions of dollars in promised aid, but that pledged aid was arriving too slowly.

"We hope that donor countries will expand their assistance to Afghanistan, but also deliver it in a speedy fashion," he said.

Qanooni, is an associate of assassinated Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massood, who was killed by Islamic militants, days before the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.

Afghan Warlord Muddles Interim Government's Plans
By DAVID ROHDE

The New York Times
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 20 — Over the last three weeks, Afghanistan's interim leader has declared him a wanted killer. A handpicked successor has been dispatched here to dethrone him, and 3,000 government troops in Kabul have been put on alert to attack him.

But today Padsha Khan Zadran did what he has done for the last several months: laughed at Hamid Karzai and his interim government in Kabul. "Mr. Karzai has some problem with his mind," Mr. Zadran said this afternoon, as a smug grin spread across his leathery face. "He is nothing. He is a common man."

Three weeks after Mr. Karzai demanded Mr. Zadran's arrest, this warlord is the most glaring example in Afghanistan of the central government's inability to control events outside of Kabul, the capital.

Mr. Zadran still controls large swathes of Khost and Paktia province, strategic areas where American forces are hunting for Al Qaeda fighters. The threatened military attack is on hold. Further, Mr. Zadran, a fierce, illiterate man brimming with bluster, appears to have grown even bolder.

After delivering his usual taunts aimed at Mr. Karzai this afternoon, Mr. Zadran announced that he would attend the loya jirga, a grand council of leaders and tribal elders from around the country planned for mid-June that will choose a government for the next two years.

His goal? To unseat Mr. Karzai. "I will send my representatives and I will go myself," he said as he sat in the governor's complex here that he was ordered to leave months ago. "Karzai is only a temporary chairman. Nobody supports him."

Mr. Zadran's threat is largely empty. He is unlikely to go to the loya jirga, where he could easily be arrested. But he remains a glaring failure for the Karzai government as political violence appears to be spreading gradually. A man was shot dead Sunday after winning the first of two rounds to represent the western district of Chaghcharan at the loya jirga. It was the first killing to mar the selection process.

Mr. Zadran's position here appears intact. Scores of men toting assault rifles and wearing bandoleers milled around the governor's complex here today. A dozen tribal elders lined up outside his door to pay their respects. Hakim Taniwal, the soft-spoken sociology professor sent to unseat him, remains in the governor's official guest house a mile away.

Western diplomats and some of Mr. Zadran's Afghan rivals blame the United States military for propping him up. American Special Forces have hired 600 of Mr. Zadran's soldiers and 500 of Mr. Taniwal's soldiers to help seal the nearby border with Pakistan, a move that rivals say inflates Mr. Zadran's political and economic power.

In an interview tonight, Mr. Taniwal, an Afghan exile who left his wife and children and a comfortable teaching position in Melbourne, Australia, to take on Mr. Zadran, said he was the one who asked Mr. Karzai to hold off on a military attack.

Wearing white trousers and tunic and a prayer cap in a room full of ferocious-looking men in black turbans, he looked and sounded like the out-of-place academic he is in Khost. A volatile provincial capital near the Pakistan border, Khost was once a Qaeda and Taliban stronghold.

"I want to remove the Kalashnikov culture," he said, using the name of a popular rifle to refer to the decade-old Afghan practice of resolving political disputes with force. "I am a teacher, not a commander."

He proceeded to lay out a strategy that was a microcosm of the gamble Mr. Karzai's government and his American backers appear to be taking across Afghanistan. Instead of confronting Mr. Zadran with force, Mr. Taniwal hopes to bury his rival with cash.

Mr. Taniwal is mounting a two-pronged effort to show local residents and local gunmen that he has the funds from international donors to pay salaries. At the same time, he is trying to cut off Mr. Zadran's access to all local government agencies that produce revenue.

"I am cutting his sources," Mr. Taniwal proudly announced tonight. "He cannot pay his people." He went on to predict optimistically that Mr. Zadran would surrender to the authorities before the loya jirga convenes on June 10.

The same dynamic is occurring on a national scale. The United States and other countries are funneling much of their aid money through Kabul to give Mr. Karzai economic leverage over defiant warlords.

But this morning Mr. Zadran insisted that he still controlled revenue-producing offices in the local government. There is also a panoply of practices — like smuggling — that Mr. Zadran and other warlords can use to raise cash.

This afternoon, he held court in the governor's office as a dozen elders from his native Zadran tribe paid their respects. He looked on like a beaming father when one tribal leader assailed Mr. Karzai for unfairly attacking Mr. Zadran. He then stood up and excused himself. "I have many tribal leaders who have come to see me," he said. "I have to go."

U.S. Not Worried About Afghan Prison
Tue May 21, 7:47 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. military is not concerned about the release of hundreds of fighters from an Afghan prison, a military spokesman said Tuesday.

U.S. forces have already screened all the prisoners held by Afghan authorities and taken custody of those they are interested in, said Army Col. Rick Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command.

Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who controls the prison in the northern Afghan town of Shibergan, has released about 800 prisoners who were held after being captured while fighting for the Taliban. More than 200 were returned to their native Pakistan while another 600 went home to southern Afghanistan.

Dostum released the prisoners after an appeal by interim leader Hamid Karzai. Released prisoners spoke of beatings, starvation rations and cells so crowded the inmates couldn't all lie down to sleep at the same time. The Red Cross started an emergency feeding program at the prison.

The releases left more than 2,000 prisoners at Shibergan, about 600 of them Pakistanis.

U.S. Wants Afghan Army to Grow
Tue May 21, 7:45 PM ET
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan said Tuesday he hopes to have 2,000 to 3,000 Afghan soldiers trained for a new national army within six months.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said "time will decide" how much larger the national army would get. He described the 2,000-3,000 goal as an "initial target."

The training is being conducted by soldiers from the U.S. Army's 3rd Special Forces Group. French soldiers also are involved.

Speaking in a video-teleconference from Tampa, Fla., near his Central Command headquarters, Franks told reporters at the Pentagon that he anticipates that training an Afghan army will be difficult.

"I will not be a little Johnny Sunshine on this thing," he said. "I think we need to be realistic. ... I don't delude myself in believing this will be an easy task. We don't know how it will go."

During a visit to Afghanistan last week, Franks met with U.S. troops and some of the Afghan army recruits who are being trained.

The long-term goal is to establish a unified Afghan army that can secure the country's borders and prevent a resurgence of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban militia that hosted al-Qaida before the U.S.-led attacks began last October.

"That will certainly be one of our more important projects in the days, weeks, months ahead, because the national army of Afghanistan is going to be an essential element of their long-term security," Franks said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has championed the Afghan army training program as an alternative to committing U.S. peacekeepers, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday that displaced Afghan civilians are returning to their homes — a good sign for stability.

"The flow of refugees back into that country ought to tell us that it is certainly not stable, like Washington, D.C., or San Francisco or wherever. But for Afghanistan, it isn't bad," Rumsfeld said.

"The big areas are reasonably secure," he added. "People get killed every once in a while, just like they do in the United States and Europe. It is nowhere near as stable as here, but it is a vastly better place than it was."

Many question whether the fierce rivalries among competing tribes in Afghanistan can be overcome sufficiently to build a unified army. Franks declined to say how long he thinks it may take to create such an army, but he indicated it would be at least a matter of months, if not years.

In prepared remarks, Franks stressed the cooperative efforts of the 60-plus nations that have joined the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It seems to me that it's because of these efforts and a great many more that the people of a war-torn Afghanistan have a chance today that they did not have eight months ago," he said.

"And it's with the continuing commitment of the nations involved in this coalition that we will surely finish the job of killing, capturing terrorists that remain in Afghanistan and the destruction of that network."

On other subjects, Franks said:

_He doubts the Army's proposed Crusader self-propelled howitzer would have been used in Afghanistan even had it been available. Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the $11 billion Crusader project has angered some in Congress and caused turmoil within the Army.

_He believes some Iranian groups are intent on causing instability within Afghanistan but is not convinced they are sponsored by the Iranian government.

_He is pleased with the Pakistani military's efforts to help round up al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan. Coordination with Pakistan "is moving in a direction that is satisfying to us," he said.

Laura Bush Pledges Afghans Support
Tue May 21, 1:24 PM ET
By SANDRA SOBIERAJ, Associated Press Writer

In an unprecedented broadcast to the Afghan people, first lady Laura Bush (news, bio, voting record) pledged "America ba shooma ahst" — America is with you — and urged women not to stay on the sidelines when Afghanistan (news - web sites) chooses its new government.

"I am thrilled to be able to speak with you directly, to let you know that the people of America are committed to the people of Afghanistan. We care about you and we will be your partners in the reconstruction of your country," Mrs. Bush said Tuesday from a small recording booth at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague.

Her 13-minute radio address was the first by an American of her stature to the people of Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has fought to overcome Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s terrorist network and the nation's former Taliban leaders.

At the close of her 10-day international tour, Mrs. Bush deflected pressure from an aid worker — and questions from reporters — about Afghan cries for more economic aid and an American security force.

Simon Panek, a People in Need Foundation director just back from three months in Afghanistan, told Mrs. Bush in a discussion before her radio speech:

"Without international forces — both (the British-led international security assistance force) and the American special forces — there will be no peace for sure. There are a lot of people waiting to start a fight if they are not guarded."

With President Bush (news - web sites) firmly against stationing American peacekeepers in Afghanistan, Mrs. Bush did not reply to Panek. But she later told reporters she understands the Afghan people "don't want to be dropped. ... The fact is there are a lot of countries that don't want America to drop them."

She would not commit the United States to additional aid, suggesting instead a greater role for private donations to Afghanistan.

She sought in her broadcast to project sympathy for Afghan suffering and bolster the country's hope for peace and prosperity.

"I know at times these must seem distant dreams," she said. "But I have spent much of the last week in two eastern European countries, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which only gained their freedom from oppression little more than a decade ago. Today they are free, vibrant nations."

Mrs. Bush's speech, translated into the local languages of Pashto and Dari, was broadcast in Afghanistan and to Afghan refugees in neighboring countries at 4:30 p.m. local time. Her words also played in 32 languages in the 25 other nations that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reaches.

She said the U.S. government's broadcasts into Afghanistan, begun in January under a new law, are especially important now because they inform Afghans about the "loya jirga," or national assembly, being convened on June 10 to select a transitional government until nationwide elections can be held.

Among nearly 4,700 delegates chosen as of mid-May, just 42 are women — a legacy, perhaps, of five years of Islamic Taliban rule, under which women were barred from schools and professions and were beaten if they ventured outside without the head-to-toe covering of a burqa.

"I hope the women of Afghanistan will not stand on the sidelines as these decisions are made. You have a big opportunity and a lot at stake," Mrs. Bush said.

With a nod to cultural differences between American and Afghan women, she added:

"I want you to know that the isolation the Taliban regime forced on you is not normal — not by international standards, not by Islamic standards and not by Afghanistan's own standards."

Since October, the U.S. government has provided Afghanistan more than $230 million in aid, including food, medical kits, radios, school supplies, housing materials and seeds for farming.

"I am confident Afghanistan can build a future of peace and freedom, and America will be your friend and partner in achieving it," Mrs. Bush said.

Tossing in a second phrase in Dari, she added: "Ma ba shooma ahstem," we are with you.

At an international donors conference in Tokyo in January, the United States pledged an additional $296 million through September. But the Ministry of Women's Affairs, headed by Dr. Sima Simar, has received just $60,000 so far — and only in the past three weeks.

"The economic help that is promised hasn't arrived in our country yet. If it has, it is also so little," a group of 13 Afghan women in business, banking and education wrote to Mrs. Bush.

"We request that you, Mrs. Bush, come once to our country and see our problems from close up," the letter continued.

It was one of five messages that Radio Free Europe's Golnaz Esfandiari, just back from four weeks in the region, gave Mrs. Bush.

"Were you afraid ever in Afghanistan?" Mrs. Bush asked her.

"No, never," Esfandiari replied. But many women there do fear taking off the burqa, she said, because they worry radical Islamic fundamentalists remain.

Simar, the minister of Women's Affairs, has called that fear cause for guaranteeing women spots in any new Afghan army or police forces — something that Mrs. Bush said Tuesday "sounds like a great idea. But I think that's really up to them."

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Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).