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6/26/04 - AFGHANS WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED - 2004-06-28

Over four-million Afghans have registered to vote in the September elections for a new national government. One of them is thirty-nine-year-old school teacher and mother of six, Azima Nabi. She says the elections will mark a crucial milestone on the road to a better Afghanistan.

Lieutenant General David Barno, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, agrees. He says the registration turnout is “a key barometer of the commitment of the individual Afghans to their democratic future.” That is why the Taleban, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups are still trying to disrupt Afghanistan’s democratic process:

“They realize that the election is about the future of the Afghan people, that the Afghan people are fully committed to seeing through a political democratic process that includes this election.”

General Barno says the effort to root out the terrorists is being stepped up on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border:

“Between operations here in Afghanistan, which have been very aggressive in the last three months with Operation Mountain Storm and the current Pakistani operations, which are the most robust that they’ve ever executed with large numbers of forces -- over ten-thousand members of the Pakistani military working now over a number of targets throughout South Waziristan -– I think al-Qaida and its network is under tremendous pressure here. And that will continue to squeeze them as we operate effectively on both sides of the border with some very significant combat operations.”

Meanwhile, says General Barno, the hunt goes on for Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and other terrorist leaders believed to be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan:

“We’ll continue to focus on finding the key leaders in these organizations and bringing them to justice, but we also are very aware that taking down their network is going to be critical to making sure that their ability to threaten others is not continued.”

Besides the terror threat, Afghanistan faces the issues of narcotics trafficking, demobilizing regional militias, expanding the capacity of local governments, and speeding up reconstruction. “Meeting these and other challenges that this emerging democracy faces will not be easy,” General Barno said. “But the Afghan people will not be facing these challenges alone.”