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US Military Boasts Better Cooperation with Afghans Against Militants - 2004-09-11

The U.S. military says that insurgents linked to Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime and its allies are no longer a significant security threat to Afghanistan. The announcement comes weeks before the country's historic elections.

U.S. military officials say that increasing cooperation between the Afghan population and the U.S. led anti-terrorism coalition indicates Taleban militants linked to the al Qaida terror network are losing support across Afghanistan. Military spokesman, Major Scott Nelson, told reporters in Kabul Saturday, that recent independent surveys also show an overwhelming number of Afghans support internationally-backed efforts by the government of Afghanistan to rebuild the war-ravaged country.

"With 10.6 million [citizens] registered [to vote], five million children in schools and 2.3 million refugees returning to Afghanistan, what this does for us though is that it shrinks sanctuary that al Qaida leaders and Taleban leaders can hide in a population," he said.

Al Qaida militants and members of the Taleban have been waging a low-level guerrilla campaign since the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition removed the Taleban from power in late 2001.

Major Nelson says they will not succeed in stopping Afghanistan from rebuilding after years of war. He says that even some Taleban leaders and allies have approached the coalition and Afghan authorities saying they want to stop fighting.

The announcement comes ahead of Afghanistan's October 9 elections for its first democratic government.

United Nations officials still warn that security issues remain a top concern in preparing for the vote.

Meanwhile, Major Nelson has dismissed a statement by al Qaida's number two leader Ayman al-Zawahri, which says U.S. forces in Afghanistan are staying in their trenches and refusing to come out.

"[It] represents a desperate attempt to disrupt progress in Afghanistan," said Major Nelson. "These enemies of freedom know a successful, stable and secure Afghanistan invalidates their existence, and undermines their own efforts to mislead the world."

Egyptian-born al-Zawahri and al Qaida's chief, Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding in the mountainous border region dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan. The two men have eluded capture since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, blamed on al Qaida.

Those attacks prompted the United States to declare war on terrorism with Afghanistan as the first battleground. Operation Enduring Freedom swiftly ousted the Taleban government, which had given sanctuary to Osama bin Laden.