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Afghan Interim Government Moves to Establish Security - 2001-12-26

Afghanistan's four-day old interim government held its second cabinet meeting Wednesday, as it moves to establish unity and security in the country after more that two decades of conflict.

Cabinet ministers have been moving into their new offices over the past few days and getting down to the business of governing. The United Nations is helping. It has begun outfitting the 30-member cabinet with the necessary equipment, everything from desks and office supplies to computers and automobiles.

Interim leader Hamid Karzai has made some appointments aimed at mending fences with those factions that had been unhappy with the make up of the new government. He has named ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum to the post of deputy defense minister. His appointment is seen as a first step toward establishing a national army for Afghanistan.

Many issues remain to be resolved, however. Under the terms of the Bonn agreement which established the interim government, only armed police are allowed to remain in the capital. Yet by Wednesday night there were no signs any of the armed factions had left the city. There are militias armed with heavy weapons in many neighborhoods.

Even with the uncertainty many Afghans feel about having armed camps sprinkled throughout the capital, there is a sense of normalcy in Kabul. And reports from the border with Pakistan that large numbers of Afghan refugees have begun returning home indicate a growing confidence in Hamid Karzai's administration.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials say American forces are preparing for a new search for Osama bin Laden in the caves of eastern Afghanistan after a brief lull over the Christmas holiday. Defense Department officials in Washington say American and allied forces are to begin a new operation into the caves and tunnels in Tora Bora in search of the those al-Qaida fighters who may be still in the area.

Some 500 Marines are reported on stand by to join the search for clues to Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. There are an estimated 2,000 U.S. Marines in Afghanistan as part of the campaign to hunt down Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida members and leaders of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban militia.

Kenton Keith, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Islamabad says he believes it is "quite possible" that Osama bin Laden had been killed.