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U.S. asked to consult Afghans

| Monday, July 22, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The governor of Kandahar province Sunday said he hopes U.S. troops will continue to pursue al-Qaida and Taliban fighters and said reports that he had called for U.S. operations to be approved by Afghan authorities were a misunderstanding.

Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai met with Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the commander of coalition forces, and expressed strong support for American operations, saying Kandahar especially needed them because "we are in the capital of al-Qaida and the spiritual capital of the Taliban."

"We are committed and honored to help with the U.S. coalition forces here in this region," the governor said. "We will even be ready to sacrifice ourselves for American soldiers to spare their lives."

Support for U.S. forces in Afghanistan has been undermined by a July 1 airstrike that Afghan authorities said killed 48 civilians in Uruzgan province. In the wake of that airstrike, Sherzai said on two occasions that U.S. forces would be required to seek Afghan permission before launching operations in Kandahar and five other southern and central provinces.

But Sherzai said yesterday that his remarks had been mistranslated and that he was asking only for U.S. consultation on operations.

McNeill in turn said that American forces would consult with him. Officers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division — which replaced the 101st Air Assault Division this weekend in Kandahar — already had met with Sherzai and would continue to consult, McNeill said.

"I count on Governor Sherzai's support and know that he is helping Afghanistan realize its ultimate destiny of becoming a peaceful and secure environment," McNeill said.

His seven-vehicle convoy in Kandahar was guarded heavily as it traveled the same road where another convoy had come under fire after visiting victims of the airstrike.

Afghan fighters and bearded American special forces soldiers stood on the back of pickup trucks with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and grenades. Afghan fighters aimed AK-47s out car windows and the American drivers navigated the bumpy roads with 9mm handguns cocked.

"If you went down this road without all this, you'd be dead," said a bearded, special forces soldier from Texas who cannot be identified for security reasons. "A show of force is the only way to stay alive."

A U.S. team investigating the airstrike in Uruzgan province was also in Kandahar yesterday interviewing forces involved in the raid, said Col. Roger King, a U.S. military spokesman.

There was no sign of strained ties between McNeill and Sherzai yesterday. They ate together, exchanged several gifts and McNeill gave one of Sherzai's sons a commemorative coin of the 18th Airborne Corps he commands.

U.S. forces already have helped repair six schools, a hospital and about 80 wells around Kandahar, McNeill said.

The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai — special envoy to Kandahar Ahmed Wali Karzai — and police Chief Gen. Mohammad Akram joined Sherzai and McNeill for lunch.

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