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Congressional Delegation Visits Afghanistan, Meets With Karzai - 2002-01-09

A three-member U.S. congressional delegation says the people of Afghanistan are living in a state of fear and improving security in the war-ravaged country is the new government's top priority.

The U.S. congressmen spoke in Islamabad following a two-day trip to Afghanistan where they examined the security, political and humanitarian situation in the country. They met ministers of the new interim government, including its leader, Hamid Karzai.

Republican congresswoman Frank Wolf told reporters the Afghan government is making efforts to improve security.

"The security has to be dealt with in a very important way because the people even in Kabul, where there are troops, don't feel secure. People are still afraid. Crime is increasing in Kabul," he said.

Another member of the delegation, Kentucky Republican Joe Pitts, said he was moved by the sense of relief felt the Afghan people now that they are free from Taleban rule. But he said much work remains.

"But there is still a severe intimidation factor in the society. We talked to the women privately. Outside they wear their burqas but in the private meetings, they express that many of them would like to remove them. But they are terrorized by the Talibanization of their society. If they take them off, they receive rude comments and threats of throwing acid in their faces and so there are still in a sense [of being] terrorized," he said.

Congressman Pitts has admitted that ignoring Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops was a mistake on part of the United States. But this time, he said the United States will not walk away.

"Perhaps we have made some mistakes in the past. We are looking to the future here and I think there is a renewed awareness of the critical importance of Central Asia and South Asia and we intend to be advocates in the future," he said.

A third member of the team, Ohio Democrat Tony Hall said Congress and the U.S. government will honor commitments to rebuild Afghanistan and not abandon the country.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's new government has ordered all armed men except official security forces to leave Kabul. The move is meant to prevent a return to the anarchy that once shattered the city.

New Afghan Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni is quoted as saying that all authorized armed men have to leave Kabul and return to their bases under a U.N.-backed plan to disarm the city.