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Afghanistan: UN Secretary-General Arrives In Kabul

Kabul, 25 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has arrived in Kabul for talks today with leaders of Afghanistan's interim administration, marking the highest-level UN visit to that country in four decades. Annan will discuss efforts to increase stability in the war-shattered country with the interim government of Hamid Karzai, which was inaugurated on 22 December.

His talks with Karzai and other officials are expected to focus on efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan amid concerns about the precarious security situation in the country.

Annan is to announce the composition of a special commission that will organize a loya jirga, the council of tribal elders that will select a transitional authority after the interim administration's six-month tenure expires.

UN officials have been raising concerns about the presence of armed groups that could threaten Afghanistan's interim government and efforts to rebuild the country. UN envoy Francesc Vendrell has suggested that as many as 30,000 foreign troops may need to be deployed around Afghanistan -- up from the 4,500 foreign forces currently planned to be based mainly around Kabul.

Annan is expected to meet with commanders of the British-led international peacekeeping force now patrolling the streets of Kabul.

During the visit, the first by a UN secretary-general to Afghanistan in 40 years, Annan is also scheduled to visit a school for girls that was reopened following the fall of the Taliban government.

He is due to continue on later today to neighboring Iran.

Meanwhile, a report from Washington states that Afghanistan's interim foreign minister says the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan should continue until all its antiterrorism objectives have been met. Abdullah Abdullah spoke to a private political forum in Washington after arriving in the U.S. capital yesterday.

Abdullah is scheduled to meet today with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials. His visit comes in advance of the scheduled arrival in Washington on 28 January of interim leader Karzai.

In his remarks, Abdullah said the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan had not yet met all its goals and should continue until all Al-Qaeda network and other enemy elements have been dealt with. Abdullah also warned neighboring countries not to meddle in Afghan internal affairs. He said he could not confirm reports that Iran was involved in such interference.

Abdullah said the new situation in Afghanistan marks a unique opportunity for all neighboring countries to reap the economic benefits that long-term stability and regional economic integration would bring.

Reports quoting U.S. officials say up to 15 Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters were killed yesterday in raids by American special forces near Kandahar in Afghanistan. U.S. military officials said 27 people were taken prisoner as a result of the attacks on two adjacent Taliban mountain compounds yesterday some 100 kilometers north of Kandahar.

U.S. officials said one American special forces soldier was wounded in the ankle in the operation and was evacuated. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said pockets of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters remain active in parts of Afghanistan. He said U.S. forces will continue to engage them as part of the U.S. antiterrorist campaign.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported that U.S. warplanes carried out new bombing raids against suspected Al-Qaeda targets in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.