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Security Tight for Afghanistan's Presidential Inauguration


As Afghanistan prepares to swear in its first popularly elected president, Afghan and U.S. forces are launching a winter operation to contain anti-government insurgents threatening the new government.

Afghan and foreign dignitaries are gathering in Kabul to attend the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as the country's president.

Mr. Karzai served as Afghanistan's transitional president following the ousting of the hard-line religious Taleban government in 2001. He won a landslide victory in the nation's first presidential election, held in October.

Fighters loyal to the Taleban oppose the new government, which they consider a foreign puppet, and say they will try to disrupt the inauguration ceremony. The Taleban made a similar threat before the October election, but there was little violence when the vote was held.

Security is tight throughout Kabul, with portions of the city closed to traffic.

With the first post-war parliamentary elections expected by April, Afghan forces and about 18,000 U.S. troops helping provide security in Afghanistan, are seeking to flush out remaining Taleban forces.

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Major Mark McCann, says the coalition military has begun a winter campaign against the Taleban and their allies, including the al-Qaida terror network.

"It is designed, obviously, to continue the operational success we have enjoyed," he noted. "They are designed to set the conditions for success leading up to the elections in the spring. And third is to basically increase pressure on the remnants of Taleban and al-Qaida that still remain in the country."

Major McCann says he hopes the operation, dubbed "Lightning Freedom," will be another step toward ending the armed struggle against Mr. Karzai's government.

President Karzai has urged Taleban loyalists to lay down their arms, promising amnesty for rank-and-file followers of the old regime. Major McCann says the government is drawing up a list of the Taleban leaders who will not be covered by the amnesty offer.

Joining the dignitaries at the inauguration will be Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. They will meet with Mr. Karzai after the ceremonies.

While Mr. Karzai has considerable support from voters at home and foreign aid donors, he faces a huge task of rebuilding and stabilizing his impoverished country. He is expected to name a new cabinet soon.